Expressway: Piercing Sandy's darkness with Christmas lights

Nancy, left, Jessica and Roy Lester with a

Nancy, left, Jessica and Roy Lester with a bush lighted for Christmas, despite the damage their Long Beach home sustained during superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 29, 2012) (Credit: Steve Pfost)

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On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I put up my Christmas lights. I decorated a bush, and I admit it's a fairly pathetic display. I had to extend the electric cord past the garage and into the kitchen. The usual socket is in the part of my house that is now without electricity -- or furniture, indoor walls or anything else that was so much a part of Christmases past.

I live on a canal on the north side of Long Beach Island. My house was filled with about 5 feet of water at the height of superstorm Sandy, and since then the first floor has been stripped to the studs.

The same weekend I put up my lights, determined not to give in to the storm's depressing ravages, my neighbor put a "For Sale" sign on his front door. Sandy and Irene had beaten him.


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He and his wife rebuilt the first floor of their two-story house after the flooding of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. As Sandy blew in, they stayed, and, of course, there was more flood damage. These neighbors are as tough as you can find, but everyone has a breaking point.

Long Beachers in general are a resilient breed. Irene hit us harder than we had been hit for many years, but we got through it. We rebuilt, and life went on.

Sandy was different, the tidal surge much higher. The first couple of weeks, the city endured. We had no electricity, no water and no heat. We put up with the water-sewer mix that flooded our basements when the sewer plant broke down.

We talked brave. The day after the election, we endured the snow that seemed to indicate Mother Nature hated us. We had no cars, because most of them had drowned. But we dug in. We found places to live, and we persevered.

Within days of the storm, people were making progress. Houses were emptied and gutted. The contents of lives began appearing on the curb. At first, it was just curious piles of furniture, appliances and personal goods. But day by day, those piles took over the sidewalks and encroached on the streets.

The piles didn't just pose physical health hazards. The effect on the psyche was something we had never experienced. No matter how resolute you were in the beginning, the piles started to get to you. And then, with pieces of insulation blowing around, I saw a few ordinary people driving around with contractor-style face masks. The upbeat attitude slowly disappeared.

Logic told us the piles would eventually go away -- and local authorities are steadily removing them. But the wreckage inflicts a pain that you endure week after week. The irrational side of your brain worries that it might be there forever.

That is why I put up my Christmas lights, to add a little cheer to my devastated block. I once had big displays with reindeer and a 5-foot-tall snowman statue. But the snowman drowned in the flood.

 

My lights are the only ones on my block so far. So I encourage Long Beachers: Put up your lights. It does not have to be a big display or even that well done. Just something that says the season of good cheer is coming. We could all use a bit of that now.

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