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Friday, October 21, 2016

ROCKAWAY BEACH, N.Y. — The boardwalk where generations strolled along one of the world’s great urban beaches is gone, twisted and then tossed into neighborhood streets by an unforgiving storm called Sandy.

Off-season devotees of the Atlantic are bound together in homage to the waves even after the temperatures have dropped and bathing suits have given way to fleece. But now, the joy of a winter’s day walk along the ocean between Beach 120th and 130th Streets quickly gives way to sorrow at the sight of collapsed roofs, mounds of rubble, front porches warped into unnatural shapes, and homes blown from their foundations, now perching at perilous angles.

Still, the human spirit cannot be blown away. The highlight of my beach walk was etched on a plywood barrier protecting an empty lot. Someone had scrawled the words: “NO retreat. NO Surrender. Not now. Not Ever. Rockaway.”

For political junkies, the meaning of 2012 was defined by an electoral verdict rendered by a richly diverse electorate on behalf of President Obama. History may well judge the election as the year’s decisive event, a turning point in our national argument.

Yet it was also a year that ended in twin tragedies.

First came the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in Rockaway, and in New Jersey, Long Island, Staten Island, parts of Manhattan, and Connecticut. Sandy taught me something troubling about the limits of my own empathy. Of course I felt for those elsewhere whose lives were wrecked and whose communities were torn apart in other natural disasters. Televised reports seared New Orleans, and especially its Lower Ninth Ward, into the consciousness of all Americans.

But television pictures are less powerful than ties to a particular place and to the people who live there. My mother-in-law Helen Boyle and the families of two of my brothers-in-law, Brian and Kevin Boyle, were all displaced by the storm. They inspire my love for Rockaway, a place that was also home to so many firefighters, police officers and others who perished in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

We can’t forget Rockaway’s times of sadness, but these cannot wipe away so many moments of delight. Whenever we arrive for one of our frequent visits, my wife Mary, our three kids and I are immediately drawn in as if we have spent our whole lives here. Old-fashioned places are like that. Community is not a philosophical abstraction in the blocks of the Belle Harbor neighborhood where my extended family lives.

  • This is a beautiful piece and, sadly, a reflection of the materialistic and uncaring society we have become. We watch events such as Sandy with horror when they happen, we weep and express our sadness for the victims, and a couple of days later we don’t even remember the place where the tragedy took place because we are too busy looking for the latest cell phone or playing a new video game.
    Of course we should support rebuilding Rockaway and every other community devastated by hurricane Sandy, and every other natural disaster. That what civilized societies do, but I am not holding my breadth. I read somewhere a few days ago that the GOP is putting limits on some of the relief funding to help victims of hurricane Sandy rebuild their homes and the city rebuild its damaged infrastructure. I wonder what segment of our society they are trying to satisfy or impress with such action.

    • Replying to Dominick Vila –

      They are probably trying to impress the wing nuts on the extreme right who cry the blues about deficits when there is a Democrat in the White House.

    • sigrid28

      I think we all need to resolve to be a bit more cynical, before it will do us any good to be “a kinder, gentler nation.” Cynicism is a healthy, intellectual response to a situation beyond any foreseeable resolution. With respect to Sandy and Katrina, Republicans begrudge funding to support rebuilding communities (implying that survivors should not be compensated who decide to live in coastal regions) AND AT THE SAME TIME deny the science that explains these devastating storms (their stance: there is nothing we can do about it). If they accepted the concept of global warming, they would have a good excuse for denying funding for populations living in coastal cities soon to be inundated. But then they would have no reason to deny their big oil supporters extra profits and protect them from fines that would stem from efforts to combat global warming. As Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

  • nobsartist

    Are our “leaders” up to it? I do not think they have the capacity. This “recovery” is run by political hacks who could care less about the toll taken in human suffering.

    They couldnt find their asses with both hands.

    We can move the National Guard to Iraq over night but then when needed in America, they cannot even muster up a cup of hot coffee.

    And once again, the political hacks are clueless but still warm, eating hot food.

    Welcome to the 3rd world.

    Thanks, politicians.

  • onedonewong

    Of course DJ then is a proponent of the 1 million a year murders of innocents in this country. Life can be cruel but murder can never be justified

    • Onedumbfuck, as always you make a statement that you don’t back up by any facts. Where is EJ Dionne state anything about abortions? You like turning everything into something about this issue. Most people are pro-choice, for you dummy that means they make their own choice not some gov’t, not some religion but THEY make their own choice. They are not doing anything illegal.

      • onedonewong

        Then if some one decides to rob a bank, rape, commit an ax murder its OK then based on your logic