During Hurricane Sandy, as I listened to the wind, rain, and tree branches whoosh and whoop outside the windows; as the doors flung themselves open and crashed against the walls, and the lights flickered and went off; and as we watched Mayor Bloomberg offer instructions and updates, I kept returning to a blessing.
Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Ruach Ha’Olam Osei Ma’asei B’reisheet. Translation: Bless You the Source of Blessings, Guiding Force of the World, Who Reenacts the Works of Creation.
This is the blessing traditionally said upon seeing wonders of nature. It’s a good reminder that we’re constantly, even at this very moment, reenacting the works of creation. The hurricane, especially in New York City, felt like a simple force of destruction, and it was. Even in this truth, this blessing kept ringing in my ears. Days after the storm passed, when it was safe to return home after being evacuated, I found my way back to Brooklyn. I came home to see neighborhoods reeling and needing so much. Many physical places, buildings and roads and businesses and homes, were destroyed. Too many people died, too many people feel like their lives were destroyed. Homes and neighborhoods are underwater or swept away, and many are still without heat and power.
But I also continue to see people and communities rallying to give as much and more than they can. Shelters are getting what they need. Volunteers are flooding local community organizations and centers to help in whatever ways are necessary. It seems that everyone I know is volunteering to clean up homes that were flooded, visiting seniors who have been stuck in their dark apartments without heat or water for too many days, cooking food for shelters that are housing many people who are now homeless, buying clothes and diapers and food to be distributed, or simply donating to the organizations who are making all of this happen. To me, this is the work of creation.
After the storm, I felt a collective rush of gratitude and a deep empathy for those in need. It was like being sick and then feeling thankful for returned health. It reminded me of when I first learned to pay attention to the simple act of breathing. What a miracle, I remember thinking, that even when I breathe all of the air out, it returns faithfully, all on its own. What a blessing, to feel, in your own breath, the work of creation.
In times like this, gratitude also floods the streets. I have felt and have heard so many people express their gratitude to be able to go home, to have a home, to have a warm shower, drinkable water, a support system, a network of family and friends, and communities who wouldn’t let them fall through the cracks. All things that we take for granted and sometimes forget about in our disaster-free day to day.
To take that practice and not just sit and marvel, but learn how to be with the destruction and the creation; to feel the suffering of others and ourselves and realize that it’s all connected; to help others and realize that in that helping them we are also helping ourselves: this is the work of tikkun olam, repairing the world.
Everyone who has been volunteering since the storm passed knows that it’s not just other people’s suffering they are alleviating. They are also benefiting themselves — that’s just the way it works. We find out that our happiness is tied up with everyone else’s happiness. We remember that our breath, our life, and our miracles are tangled up with everyone else’s. Sometimes it takes a storm to be reminded that we’re all in this together, we’re all responsible to and for each other, and we’re all reenacting the work of creation.