We are home now from a marathon trip to run the NYC marathon that didn't happen. That's ok though, because there should have never been a question of whether it would happen.
I thought the day after the storm when I saw all the destruction on the news that there was no way they would still have the marathon. No way. Because we have lived on the Gulf Coast our whole lives and we know hurricanes. It seemed like the wrong time and the wrong place to be running a marathon.
But when the mayor said it was a go we thought, ok....wow, maybe things aren't as bad there as they look on television. Surely the mayor knows what's going on because if things were really bad, the marathon would be canceled. Right? So even though deep down we felt like it was wrong to be running a marathon in a place that had seen such destruction, we thought we should (and could) trust the mayor. Because surely the mayor knows something we don't.
So we tried to put aside those feelings deep down that told us we shouldn't go and we went anyway. We got into NYC early Friday and headed to the expo where Andy got his race number. Running the New York City Marathon is one of those kind of things you put on your bucket list. He had pencil in hand and was ready to cross that one off about 36 hours later. But about an hour after we got back to the hotel, we got the news the marathon had been canceled.
This was news we should have heard four days earlier. From the people who should have known. And the thing is, they did know. And we could debate for years why they did what they did. Most people would say it is all about money. Because the marathon brings in a lot of money to the city. Tens of thousands of tourists in town for several days spending a lot of money. A lot. And most of those people (and their money) would have stayed home if the race had been canceled when it should have been.
But instead we all ended up in NYC on that Friday, one minute feeling elated about recognizing a goal you have dreamed about and trained for a long time, the next minute feeling duped. Feeling tricked and cheated. I thought even then, this shouldn't have been about money. It should have been about principle. Doing what is right. Principle would have canceled that race.
This wasn't going to be the first time over the weekend I would consider the meaning of that word.
Once we realized we were (for lack of a better term) stuck in NYC for the weekend we decided we could do one of two things. Either have fun, see shows, shop and eat at fabulous restaurants as we do every time we are there (which, by the way, everything and I mean everything was business as usual in Manhattan...you would never know a hurricane had hit) or we could let something good come out of the whole mess.
Now, one would think that an operation the size and magnitude of the NYC marathon with such impressive corporate sponsorship (ING namely), and given the fact that they were being crucified in the press for the decision to go ahead with the race, would have immediately rallied what could have been a massive relief effort. With tons of supplies (food, warming blankets, generators and water, etc.) and buses already lined up to take runners to Staten Island....the marathon could have followed up the "canceled" announcement with a call to arms. Because once we all got over our initial shock/disappointment/whatever, we were ready to do something. We were getting no news, though, whatsoever from the NYC marathon (not even a cancellation notice...we heard on the news like everyone else). We had no idea where to go, what to do, or how to get there. And most of us were only going to be there for the weekend.
I spent most of Friday night and Saturday morning looking online for churches or relief organizations, emailing people, posting on FB....trying to find out what we could do. I finally received news that a church on the lower east side needed help but we couldn't find them Saturday afternoon (after a two hour search in that neighborhood). By Saturday night, however, most of the runners had taken it upon themselves to organize a relief effort. Some were going to Staten Island, some to Coney Island, and some to the Rockaways. We were able to connect with a friend from Mobile who now lives in Brooklyn, and who had spent all day Saturday on Coney Island helping people. She was going back on Sunday so we went with her.
So...remember how I mentioned earlier that the news on TV doesn't give you any clue to the reality of the situation? Here's the reality. There are many senior citizens who live in high rise buildings that have no power and, as a result, these poor people have no way to make it down stairs to get help. They are stranded in their apartment with no way to even flush the toilet. Our friend told us she and others were carrying buckets of water up those stairs so these people can flush their toilets. The smell is horrendous. People are freezing, they are running out of food and they don't have clean water to drink. Many people are alone and are just waiting for someone to come see about them. It's not the government that's doing this...it's people like our friend who are going out there every day, door to door, helping and loving on these people.
Coney Island, where we were on Sunday, looks like a third world country in the middle of a war zone. There is no power, no clean water, sewage is running through the streets, and rotten food, trash and debris is piled up everywhere. People....mothers with small children....the elderly... are just wandering around the streets, trying to figure out what to do. Many people there don't even speak English so they have no way to understand where to go for help, if they can even get there. Yes, FEMA is set up in a parking lot there with supplies. Yes, the National Guard was there giving out supplies. Yes, other volunteer organizations were there with clothes, food, blankets, clean water, etc. But so many of these people have no idea where or how to go about getting this help....if they can even make it out of their apartment.
As we were trying to make our way out there to Coney Island (transportation is still difficult at best), we ended up on the wrong bus. A man stumbled onto this bus, clearly in distress. His shoes and pants were muddy (and please understand....this probably isn't mud....it's sewage...but we are calling it mud because it makes us feel better since we were walking in it too)....he looked like he hasn't slept in days, he was exhausted and at the end of himself....he told the bus driver he had no bus fare or metro card because his home had been destroyed....
and this bus driver was going to kick him off the bus. Our friend had an extra metro card and paid for it, but told the bus driver she couldn't believe he was going to kick this man off. The bus driver proceeded to lecture her about "principle"....telling us (over his microphone so we could hear loud and clear) that it was principle that wouldn't allow anyone to have a "free ride."
We saw the best and the worst of the human spirit while were there. We met the owner of a small drugstore whose business had been destroyed (and he likely didn't have insurance to cover it, like most people in this area) but in broken English he asked us to tell everyone we could that whatever medicine they needed, he would get for them...for free. Not only that, he would bring it to them, wherever they are. Upstairs, wherever. Please tell them, he said.
That is principle, my friends. Principle means you put aside the rules for doing what is right. Principle means you forego profit to do what is best. Principle means you let a hurting man ride your bus when he doesn't have the $2.25 fare. Principle means you forget about your own needs to tend to those whose needs are greater.
Principle means you would never consider having a marathon when so many in your city are dying, hurting and suffering. Never. Not for one second.
These people need help, friends. They need hands and feet to help them and love on them....they need ways to stay warm, carry on life the best they can.... and they need hope. Oh...and that man from the bus? Our friend got his name, number and address yesterday. She is headed back there today to see about him and get him some help.
Sometimes being in the wrong place at the wrong time is a good thing after all.