September 3, 2014

The Life Affirming Feeling of Rebuilding

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What tests us makes us stronger.

I am spending a week in a beach town in New Jersey that was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy nearly two years ago. As my sister and I take a morning walk along the beach promenade, we try to determine which houses are the same ones that have been here for years. We’ve been coming to this beach community since we were children and know the landscape pretty well.

“Look, that one on the stilts is the one we looked at as a possible rental one year,” I say.

There’s an empty lot next to it and we try to figure out if it used to hold two houses or one. And what did it or they look like?

When we get to the street that was our stomping grounds for many years — our teens through early 20s — we notice the subtle differences in the structure of the beachfront home there. It was one of the first we ever saw that was built on stilts and it appears to have weathered Sandy’s wrath in terms of outside construction.

But as we continue our two-mile-or-so walk and see the various levels of damage and obvious new repair, what begins to occur to me is the miracle of the rebuilding process. Be it here or someplace in the Midwest slammed by a tornado or in other countries shellshocked by a tsunami, the cycle of life is on full display.

Taken down by a force of nature, built back up by the resilience of man.

The amount of work that has been created by a disaster serves as a bright spot in an otherwise devastating situation. Construction crews out in force, happily employed. Electricians, plumbers, et al on the go, assessing, repairing, employing. These tend to also bring out the best in people who don’t even recognize their community in the days and weeks following a storm. They become more engaged, unified, and creative about solutions.

It never ceases to amaze. We rally. We do.

I have to believe that the homes still sitting in disrepair, boarded up, clearly untouched will represent, for someone, somewhere, a new beginning. I try to focus on big picture, hold good thoughts for those hung up in insurance or zoning red tape, and see it all as progress.

What tests us makes us stronger. Not necessarily in the moment, when the test is most grueling, but later when some processing has occurred and we can see our new path more clearly. That it was forced on us begins to seem secondary to the fact that we are rising to the challenge.

It’s one more thing — along with the layoffs, the illnesses, the setbacks — that gets imprinted on us and makes us handle the next thing differently. It somehow steels us for the next big hit. Or allows us to be more empathetic when others are in their own moment of crisis.

I can do this. You can do this. We can do this.

That’s how it eventually feels. And we should be really proud of that.

By Nancy Colasurdo

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