Monday, December 17, 2012

On the 10th Night of Candlelight: After Hurricane Sandy

Dear Fellow Healer of Creation,

Today we share a beautiful reflection from PEC's Treasurer Sue Smith. Sue lives in New Jersey and lost power during Hurricane Sandy. During her 10th evening without electricity, she wrote about how her experiences in the aftermath of the storm reminded her of the destruction of our fossil-fuel dependent lifestyle and the power of community to help heal God's people.

As I sit here on the 10th night of candlelight, it is in some ways like the first. A Nor’easter is bringing wind, except nowhere near the sustained wind of the first night. Like the first, there is rain – but also snow. Loss of electricity has wide-ranging impacts: it is cold, there have been gas issues for cars, and the loss of a freezer full of food. I am lucky, natural gas allows me to cook on the stove, and gives me hot water.

Called to environmental work for years, mostly because of destruction to the beauty of God’s creation, I have realized more than ever that fossil fuels have impacted our ability to build and sustain community.

Sandy has brought nature’s destruction and devastation to the Jersey Shore – a place I love. Some nearby towns will probably never be the same. People’s lives have been turned upside down, and the National Guard is a constant presence, keeping us out of places we never thought we would not have access to.

Sandy has also made me realize how much impact fossil fuels have on our sense of community and communion with each other. From the first night of candlelight, I have talked to my neighbor every day – checking in, sharing information and caring for each other in ways we have not done for 20 years of living next door to each other. I have been on the phone with my sister, 250 miles away, every day. She goes through my emails and gives me updates from the power company and the township’s websites.

And I have been walking around since day 2 of candlelight. I heard many stories as I met people: the elderly man who had to find a new place to live because a tree smashed into his house; the woman who came to look for her sister whom she had not heard from in days; the people who could not get into the marina to check on their boat; the neighbors who told me about the destruction in Sea Bright to homes, beach clubs and bars; the people telling me what grocery stores were open and what restaurants were serving food. I even talked to the electrical workers from Ohio, here to help us, taking a well-deserved sightseeing break to look at the Manhattan skyline and the new World Trade Center building.

As time went on, and power came back, and roads became cleared, and gas was less of a problem, and more cars were on the road, I met less and less people on my walks, and heard fewer and fewer stories. It occurs to me that all this use of fossil fuels has led to less community. The seventh night of candlelight was Sunday – yes the Sabbath. I went to church that morning, and we shared communion and shared stories of our experiences in the storm and some of the needs that were arising. Again, a sense of community that is different from what we normally experience.

During worship, my friends Bill and Sue Brennan shared this song that Bill wrote after volunteering in D’Iberville, MS, after Hurricane Katrina. It is about the importance of listening to people’s stories in the face of disaster. I share this YouTube video of the song, with pictures of devastation to the Jersey Shore:

Maybe this is the most tragic result of our use of fossil fuels. Yes, there is destruction to the beauty of the earth, to our water supplies and harm to people’s health. But maybe the loss of community is the most destructive impact on God’s people. It is the telling of our stories and the listening to each other’s stories that join us in community.

Sue Smith is the Treasurer of Presbyterians for Earth Care, a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Rumson, NJ, a GreenFaith Fellow, and a student at New Brunswick Theological Seminary.

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