There's a lot going on right now on the East Coast. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is heartbreaking to watch. And while I can't fully grasp the true impact of the storm, I do get a small sense of the devastation and turmoil and frustration from television, but more importantly from friends, colleagues, and family through phone, email, and social media (finally, a real reason for Twitter and Facebook to exist).
Billions in damage. Loss of life. Millions still without power or food or gas. I was inspired seeing the sense of community erupt nationwide, especially seeing often political foes Obama and Christie working together in unity to do what politicians should be doing everyday - solve problems instead of being problems themselves.
Now, there is a debate and argument going on about Bloomberg's decision to keep the New York Marathon on schedule. Some see it as a slap in the face to those still struggling - surely, the resources needed to conduct the event could be put to better and more immediate use for the desperate citizens. On the other hand, the revenue generated for the event will help businesses affected and bring in taxes and revenue for regions that will be rebuilding and recovering for years to come. I'm not going to be foolish enough to pretend that I can know the right answer sitting 3,000 miles away in California.
But, it does bring to mind a rather perplexing reality that I find myself struggling with on a philosophical level. What are we to our nation? And to our fellow countrymen and women? Are we citizens and neighbors or are we consumers? What is our role in life? I'll never forget in the days following the attack on 9/11 when all that was asked of us from Bush in terms of response and sacrifice after the attack and the coming conflict was to go about our day - in essence to go shopping. They wanted us to spend our money so that the economy didn't tank as well.
Now, I am no economist. Math isn't even really my strong suit (probably one of the reasons I became a writer). I do acknowledge that there is a necessary connection between our consumption and our well-being. If I don't buy the clothes and shoes and cars and books and food that others sell and make and distribute, then my fellow citizens in those industries will not have jobs and will themselves be unable to spend their money on food, shelter, cars, and perhaps the books that I write - thus negating my source of income. I get the cycle that exists.
I guess I just wish it weren't that way. I wish when a tragedy like Hurricane Sandy occurs, our priority wasn't getting Wall Street back up and running so the financial machine could keep humming. I wish that came way later - after we made sure that everyone was safe and accounted for. I see the throngs of New Yorkers walking across the bridge, braving the over-crowded subways, and enduring endless lines to board buses. But they aren't going to see family or check on loved ones. They are trying to go to work. We spend so much money on so many stupid and useless things in our lives - as individuals and as a government. I wish when such things happen, people could focus on their family and safety and shelter and not bringing in that paycheck because its so damn important to our survival. Again, I sound incredibly naive right now, and I'm not saying that work isn't important. I guess I just wish our lifestyles weren't such that when something like this happens we can't even spare a few days to cope and recover before having to return to the grind just so we won't end up on the street.
I have no idea what the answer is, but I yearn for a world where we could exist as people first and consumers second.