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Reacting to Tragedy

My daughter, at water's edge on River Street in Sea Bright, NJ

We live in a small town located on the Jersey Shore, a short drive from Sea Bright, NJ.   Sea Bright, a barrier beach surrounded on one side by the Shrewsbury River and on the other, the Atlantic, is one of the towns hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy.  During the storm, the river met the sea, leaving devastation in its wake – from which residents still work to recover.

Following the storm, our town was without power for almost two weeks.  It was not uncommon to see normally fastidiously kept denizens strolling the streets without a shower and without hands- and ears-full of technological devices.  Stripped of their constant companions, people looked dazed.  They hungered for connection, as well as distraction, and within moments of interacting, the conversation often went to the devastation of neighboring Sea Bright.  “Have you been over there?” neighbors would ask me, eyes as wide as saucers.  “You have to go, it’s unbelievable.  You won’t even recognize it.  Sand is everywhere, you can’t even see the street.  The beach clubs are demolished, boats are in living rooms, they won’t even let the residents in. But you can get close enough to see it, you really should go.” Every time I was asked about Sea Bright I tightened.  I’d immediately think to myself that the last thing the National Guard needed was me standing there like a tool snapping pictures for my friends on Facebook.  “No, I haven’t been,” I’d reply.  “I’m not going unless it’s to volunteer.” And then I’d walk away, judging the reaction of my neighbors, (as well as mine, to theirs), the news and humanity.  “Knuckle heads,” I’d mutter.

So it surprised me last week during a spontaneous run to Sea Bright to get homemade ice cream and walk the streets with my children, not only that I turned a corner to see that the river – after extremely heavy rains – had once again risen over the retaining wall and flooded nearby houses and businesses, but also that my first instinct was to grab my camera.  As I walked down the aptly named River Street with my children, I stood looking at the water lapping against the building that houses Sea Bright Rising, a local organization set up to help residents recover from storm damage.  Seeing this, and watching workers wade to the building, my eyes welled with tears and a pit formed in my stomach.  As my hand wrapped around my camera, I heard the voice in my head say, “holy shit, what are you doing?” I paused and released it. Then I asked myself, “Are you using tragedy to get people to watch your work?”  I sat with this for a while. Leaving my camera in my bag, I gathered my kids and turned away.

We continued our walk back down Ocean Avenue, Sea Bright’s main street, and looked at a new mural that had been added to the side of one of the newly rebuilt businesses.  It was bright, cheery, and stood as one of the first sights welcoming visitors to the town.  I asked my kids to stand in front of it so I could capture it and them.  Its beauty was as a stark contrast to what we had seen on River Street.  I sat with what I was feeling and what we were seeing and realized that nothing exists alone.  Only a block over, the water still met the land and people still needed help.  I started to look at my neighbors’ reactions to the aftermath of the storm, and at my capturing the new flooding, in a different way.  I realized that in doing so, we are also bringing light – each in our own way – to the reality of what is right now.  I asked my kids to walk back down to River Street so that I could film the river having risen over the land; the land that rises yet again to shine brightly.

This post is a companion piece to a video of my children looking at and reacting to the recent flooding in Sea Bright, NJ.  You can view the video here.

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My kids eating ice cream in front of the newly painted mural in Sea Bright, NJ

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Very intersting. Thank you

Very intersting. Thank you for sharing this article. Friv 2, Friv 3

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