The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

It’s been four years…four years, and the recovery isn’t concluded yet.           

Our neighbors in Haiti, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida are where we were four years ago. The physical power of Hurricane Matthew surpassed the power of Hurricane Sandy as it came ashore. Having lived through Hurricane Sandy, and knowing the destruction and heartache caused by that storm, we have some well-informed empathy for the people of Haiti, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina as they struggle with the effects of Hurricane Matthew. Most people would say, “I can’t imagine…” but the devastation from Hurricane Matthew comes closer to home precisely because we can imagine. 

We gathered the second Sunday in November 2012 at Holy Spirit/Tuckerton. We said our prayers, and enjoyed a lunch that the good people of that parish, far more storm-beaten than we, had the gracious strength to provide for us. When I asked if we wanted to continue meeting there, or go home even if it meant worshipping in an unheated building, we were unanimous: “We want to go home.” So now do the people in the dioceses of Haiti, East Carolina, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Southeast Florida and Florida want to go home; they yearn for what we sought for ourselves- home. They want what we wanted…. weakening Autumn light filling the windows with that glorious comfort we savored our first Sunday back in this place we love so well. And it took nearly four years for all 59 parish households displaced by Hurricane Sandy to get home. We get it. We really get it. On that first Sunday home, I wrote to you: 

Please be gentle with yourself and others- very gentle…

As we collect ourselves together as individuals and as Jesus’ friends who call themselves “Holy Innocents’/Beach Haven,” please remember what we talked about when we first met together after the storm. We may feel shocky or disoriented, perhaps somewhat “foggy” unable to organize one’s self effectively for the day unable to plan well, or to track a plan that has been made somewhat less aware of the passage of time unable to remember who you told what 
less aware of self care like eating, bathing, and/or resting as though the more that gets done, the more there is to do- overwhelmed unable to think about what has happened in effective ways[1] 

If you experience this in yourself or others, you are not damaged or defective. You are a human being who is living huge events. Trying to right ourselves, and gain some orderly sense of things, will take some time. If you need some help doing this, ask. That help is available. That’s why it is so important to be gentle with yourself and others. 

We have the two lists at Church, and they are useful only when they are used together:

 Here’s what I need                       How can I help?

The first list is the hardest to use. We are prideful people who want to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Now is the time to get over that. If you need something, say so…say what it is that you need. 

AND in the midst of such an enormous event, effectively regaining balance includes getting outside of your own particular circumstances…be of help to someone else, even/especially on days when you can’t be very helpful to yourself. A good, gentle discipline is to give someone else four hours of your time each week…inside or outside the parish…do not use helping others as a way to escape your own troubles, but rather as a way to have confirmed in you that you are not alone…in that assurance your own troubles lose some of their power.

When we do these things, we bear witness. We bear witness to each other and the World. We bear witness that is present, and open and willing. We bear witness to the larger reality that God is right here, right now. You don’t have to have it all together to bear witness- you just have to show up. We draw strength simply from seeing each other- you know this…how wonderful it was to gather for the first time and just see each other! What blessings our faces are to see! Keep that up! 

...and in talking about this... 

In learning to treat self and others gently as we right ourselves and seek our “new normal” after Hurricane Sandy, permit these few tips about talking about the storm and its effects. They primarily involve honoring the experience of others in the expectation that your experience will be honored too: 

Be grateful: If you’re reading this, it could have been much worse. 

Please don’t judge or make comparison about the circumstances of another:6” of water may be a catastrophe to one person, while 30” of water may be an annoying inconvenience to clean up for another. Prior experience, age, health, and a whole host of factors will influence how we each experience the effects of Hurricane Sandy. 

Please, when you ask, ask a good question, and listen to the answer: Too often, we ask the perfunctory, “How are you doing?”and believe ourselves to have been polite and caring. Perhaps a better question is a smaller but more focused question: “What progress have you made today?” This gives your friend the opportunity to talk about what is happening in real time, and for right now, small questions are more manageable than large ones when thinking or talking about most things. 

If you want to talk about your troubles, do so. But please don’t use your question about someone else’s circumstances as an introduction to talk about your troubles; comparisons are odious, and the conversation isn’t about who got hurt the worst:
     “How are you doing?”

     “Well, I got 24” inches of water in the living room, and ...”

     “Oh yeah? Well I had 25” inches, and the rugs are sopping wet, and my grandmother’s china closet is stained, and the appliances are all shot, and...”

You get the idea... 

And we did get the idea, some better than others. Around us we see people still struggling to regain a sense of balance and order in their lives, and most are making a pretty decent go of it. There also are those who remain  a bit shocky, discontented, uneasy and/or anxious for reasons they cannot explain; if they are still this way four years later, we probably are seeing permanent effects of Hurricane Sandy. Shocky…discontented…uneasy and/or anxious…this is probably their new normal. If it still is observable, these symptoms of personal, internal storm damage probably will never go away because the damage will live in them as long as they do. This is PTSD- post traumatic stress disorder- and it lingers forever, usually lessening in effect over time, but never fully gone. Hurricane Matthew prompts us to remember, and invites an inventory, a spiritually grounded reflection on our personal experience. Hurricane Matthew reminds us of how Hurricane Sandy effected our own lives, and its particulars may trigger in us old feelings of fear, anger, discontent, anxiety. The question I asked on 18 November 2012, “What progress have you been able to make?” remains pertinent and applicable, and it informs our prayers for the victims of Hurricane Matthew. Though God already knows, tell Him again what progress you have been able to make, and say “Thank You” for being alive to pray the prayer. 

I ask that we focus our prayers on the relief of those effected by Hurricane Matthew. I ask that we be sacrificially generous in gifting ERD and other relief entities that are already there, finding and  burying the dead, and laboring amid the sodden possessions and wrecked homes of hundreds of thousands of people just like us. 

I love you. I am so proud of you, and I am more grateful than my words can fully say that we remain together today, holding in our hearts ourselves and our own recovery as we pray now for those who are where we have been. 

Love you. See you in Church. 

FBC3+, 23 October 2016 being The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

[1] Resentment is more damaging to self than to anyone else …we remember what has happened and somehow insist that it not have happened…as long as we insist that what has happened not have happened, we’re stuck in resentment. It is one thing to be really angry about Hurricane Sandy. It is another thing to keep resenting its effects. Resentment is a bog, and it’s easy to get stuck.