Small Actions, Significant Consequences

Don’t feel paralyzed by good fortune – help is easier to provide than it seems.
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

August of 2005 was a rough patch for me. My current employment had become untenable, but I felt like there were no viable options. I’d abandoned all the tools I’ve talked about before – the morning pages and the artist’s dates – and I felt lost at sea and unsure what my next step should be.

Then Hurricane Katrina happened, and my whole perspective changed.

I remember spending an entire weekend glued to the television, unable to understand why there seemed to be no cavalry on the way, no help to be found for the residents of New Orleans (and the Gulf Region as a whole) as they struggled in the storm’s aftermath. I watched in horror as entire neighborhoods were engulfed by storm surges. Tears flowed as I saw senior citizens languishing outside the overtaxed and undersupplied convention center while their relatives (and even concerned strangers) pleaded for assistance. I remember listening to a KTLA newscaster trapped in the city, his shaky voice belying the rising panic he was feeling as the waters rose and bodies literally floated outside his window.

After those first few days of impotent outrage, I decided to do something. I convinced my boss to allow me to tweak my 9-5 schedule so that I could attend emergency Red Cross Training. I was even given the “okay” to take off “as much time as needed” should I be called to fly out to Louisiana as part of a Red Cross relief team. For a crazy four days, I attended back-to-back seminars about logistics and shelter organization in a room packed with equally determined volunteers and even a group of local firemen.

Ultimately, my hometown was a little too enthusiastic. There was such a bottleneck of volunteers that the local Red Cross ended up with too many bodies and not enough transport. I never made it out, and instead consoled myself with donations and offering assistance through the Craigslist’s special Hurricane Katrina message board (mostly folks trying to get messages out to loved ones in other parts of the country).

Five years later, I found myself in New Orleans on business. Encamped at a hotel just two blocks away from that infamous convention center, I was surrounded by businesses and residents who were still picking up the pieces and restarting their lives in a “post-Katrina” NOLA.  Of course, the economy had chosen to tank just months prior to my arrival, so an air of sadness and desperation veiled the city.  So many folks were still displaced, schools still closed, restaurants and hotels vacant.

A melancholy visit to be sure.

Of course “superstorm” Sandy had brought back all those memories. I’m reminded once again of the shock I felt seeing whole neighborhoods wiped out. I’m saddened by the loss and the suffering I see on the news and online, and I wonder what – if anything – I can do to help. Is donating money enough? Or is there something more that can be done?

Those of us who were spared Sandy’s wrath may be feeling guilty and ineffectual.  Distance and time and budgets can constrain us, and we often feel like we should be doing more. But don’t let the “shoulds” and “coulds” discourage you. Don’t feel ashamed for sitting comfortably in front of our computer, electricity close at hand and balmy weather outside your front door. You’re not required to suffer in order to feel empathy.  You don’t have to castigate yourself – it doesn’t help anyone to duck your head and lurk in the corner, afraid to give offense because you’re a little better off right now than someone else.

My mother says, “we all have our tragedies,” and in general she means that no one person’s hardship matters more than anyone else’s because we are each alone and significant in our misery.  But I also like to think that because we all have our own tragedies, we don’t need to apologize when we’re not in the crosshairs of a catastrophe.

“There but for the grace of God go I,” is the saying, right? That doesn’t have to mean, “Phew, lucky I dodge that bullet!”

It can also mean, “We’ve all been there, so this rounds on me.”

As Mary Elizabeth Williams explain over at Salon (“Greetings from post-Sandy Staten Island” ) says,

“When we let ourselves believe we’re not allowed to experience sadness or frustration because we can still turn on a light switch or we didn’t lose all our possessions while someone so very close did, we risk cutting ourselves off from our feelings, which serves no one. We risk judging others for their emotions. Compassion is not guilt. Gratitude for whatever we have doesn’t look like an apology. And I don’t believe that anyone I saw on Staten Island Sunday is jockeying for disaster supremacy against the victims of famine in Somalia, or the mother who’s just lost a child. I do believe that to sincerely say ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you” doesn’t have to include the unspoken understanding “and that it didn’t happen to me.’”

Today’s election day – a time when we see the cumulative power of individual action: one vote may not have much power, but many votes can change the world.

And small actions can have significant consequences…

So let’s put all hand in like a high school cheerleading squad and declare our commitment to helping when and how we can – ready?


I Wanna Help!

Below are some notable relief efforts that I heartily recommend if you’re looking for a way to help out the East Coast this week. Money is always welcome, and there are plenty of options beyond the Red Cross. And because I’m always looking for the literary angle, I’m particularly excited about some of the efforts to provide books to residents of New Jersey and New York who need some distraction and some storytelling more than just about anyone else right now (except food, shelter, and clothing, of course).

Over at KidLit Cares, an online auction allows you to bid on items donated by agent, editors, authors, and illustrators, with all profits donated directly to the Red Cross disaster relief fund.  Items available for purchase include products and services specific to the literary community, like manuscript critiques or visits (in person or via Skype) from authors.  You can bid on virtual workshops, take a library tour or get a “free pass” to attend an editorial meeting.  KidLit Cares is also taking direct donations if you’d prefer to send some funds without the hassle of an online auction.

Meanwhile, over in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Public Library is accepting donations for it’s Coney Island and Red Hook bookmobiles.  You’re going to have to be fairly local to help out, and books must be donated no later than 9:45 am tomorrow (Wednesday, November 7,2012) if you want them in the bookmobile.  Other donated supplies will be accepted at the Central Library through the end of the week, and items most needed include bottled water, non-perishable foods, flashlights, batteries (all sizes), and new blankets, towels, socks, and hygiene products.  Click here for more information on how to donate.

If online is you’re only option and you’re not so keen on donating money directly, you can always use Amazon.  In one of the coolest adaptations I’ve heard of so far, the Occupy Sandy Relief NYC  is using Amazon’s wedding registry to coordinate donations.

From the registry: “We are Brooklyn residents and are in touch with the Occupy Sandy team who will receive the shipped items and organize daily deliveries to priority response areas. We are the updating the registry as we get updates on what is needed most in affected areas. PLEASE pay for the most expedited shipping – these items are needed ASAP! PLEASE NOTE the registry does not update automatically. Your purchases may not be reflected for 24-48 hours, but you will receive a purchase confirmation right away.”

And finally, good ol’ Galley Cat has a list of ways to volunteer and/or donate.  Click here and you’ll have access to local food and water distribution centers, as well as information about blood donations and other volunteer opportunities.


And just so you know…I’m putting my money where my mouth is!

All original content is the sole property of Elizabeth Cutright and The Daily Creative Writer. If you are reading this blog on another website, it has been reposted without the author’s permission in violation of the DMCA. © 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

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