The CNN’s camera angle is wide, spanning a portion of the New Jersey coast, an area where an amusement park stood, just a few days ago. A rollercoaster rests on its side, half submerged in the waters of the Atlantic ocean. Nearby, a ferris wheel has collapsed onto itself, no longer standing tall and majestic. The remaining rides, indistinguishable mounds of colorful steel, lay in a jumbled heap, having been jostled into their resting places by the wind and waves.
The camera moves on, and now we see a neighborhood. There are houses that should be in neat, orderly rows, but that are now sitting askew on their foundations. One house, a white, stately two-story beauty, no longer faces the ocean but instead leans against its neighbor at an awkward angle. The neighborhood’s streets look eerily pale, almost as if covered with snow. But it is beach sand, not snow. During the height of the storm, floodwaters and storm surges pushed the beach up into the streets, covering grass and sidewalks and pavement, as the ocean tried to reclaim some acreage.
The devastation of Superstorm Sandy is almost mind boggling, and definitely mind- numbing. I can’t help but think of the people who lived in those houses, the ones that flooded, the ones that burned to the ground, the ones crushed by trees and blown over by wind. Other than having many good friends who live in New York and some of the surrounding areas, I have no personal connection to Sandy’s devastation. But as a human, as an American, I feel my northern neighbors’ suffering. And after Sandy, everything else this week – the upcoming election, anyone? – seems trivial and unimportant.
Madeline wanted to attend a sleep away camp this past summer, but I didn’t let her go. I couldn’t imagine having her gone for an entire week. She would miss home too much. We would miss her too much.
Back when I was a kid, probably Madeline’s age or a little older, I wanted to go to camp in the summer. I remember pouring over brochures for camps in other states, far away states like North Carolina and Maine, and I investigated attending the YMCA’s Camp McConnell here in North Florida. As I debated the merits of each camp, my thoughts were filled with images of singing songs around a campfire, roasting marshmallows for s’mores, boating in the lake, and horseback riding. And then I thought about being away from my parents for an entire two weeks. I chickened out. I never went to summer camp.
When the flyer from Camp McConnell came home in her backpack a month ago, Madeline begged us to let her go. Not wanting her to have the same regrets I did, I agreed. After all, it was just for two nights, not fourteen.
In the weeks that passed after I signed the registration and paid the fee, I offered to let her back out of going. Just in case she was getting the jitters, like I was. But she wasn’t. Unlike me, Madeline was resolute in her decision, and she wasn’t nervous about being away from home at all. And as we dropped her off early Friday evening, she radiated with excitement…and independence.
Sixteen years ago today, I turned 24 years old. On that same day, around 2:30 in the afternoon, I sat with my boyfriend in the east stands at Florida Field, watching the end of the first half of the football game and anticipating a much needed trip to the bathroom that I would take during halftime. On that sunny, unseasonably cool day, we sat in seats number 1 and 2 on row 69 in section 37. I know this because I saved the ticket stub, an orange and white piece of cardstock with a thin blue border, a little bigger than the size of a movie ticket.
Florida was playing Auburn that day, October 19, 1996, and the Gators, coached by Steve Spurrier at the time, were undefeated and handing out routine beatings to opposing teams. It was a good time to be a Florida Gator.
My parents were at the game, as they always were on home game Saturdays, sitting high up in the southwest corner of the stadium, catty corner from us. I was living in an apartment off campus back then, finishing up my post-baccalaureate pre-med classes and working full-time to pay for them. Because I was a student, with an address that changed almost yearly while I was in college, I still received mail at my parents’ house. A letter had come for me, my father told me before the game, and he and my mom had brought it with them to the game for me to pick up. I made plans to meet them at the end of halftime.
I recall that bathroom trip vividly, even though nothing newsworthy happened in there. That bathroom break is mostly memorable for what came after, for what I almost missed. If I had spent any extra time in the bathroom, or perhaps stopped to buy a Coke from the concession stand, I would have missed the banner that flew over Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the banner flying behind a small white plane making its last loop around the stadium before flying off to the west.