Catholic News Service
Men work on a home Jan. 7 that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy in Ortley Beach, N.J. Continuous efforts are underway to rebuild parts of the town destroyed in late October by the massive storm.
Catholic News Service
Men work on a home Jan. 7 that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy in Ortley Beach, N.J. Continuous efforts are underway to rebuild parts of the town destroyed in late October by the massive storm.
Here is a reflection about Hurricane Sandy's destruction and recovery efforts which appeared in The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton, N.J. It was written by Mary Morrell, managing editor.

Found: One black rocker.

It was resting on our fence after the angry waters of Hurricane Sandy receded, but not before leaving 5 feet of water in our Ortley Beach home, and taking our front porch, some siding, a good portion of the new roof we had just finished nailing up the Saturday before the storm hit and everything we owned inside and out.

Today, I am grateful that the rocking chair, a piece of someone else's life, made it through unscathed and I have a place to sit and rest as our family begins the daunting task of cleanup. It has also given me a place to reflect on the loss that is, at times, incomprehensible -- not just for us, but for so many who have lost so much more.

As I shared the experience with my neighbors, from the first day we lined up to board buses to the barrier island through the subsequent days when we stopped to chat with each other over mounds of belongings piled high on the curb, what struck me was that while, in many ways, loss affects each person differently, there is one common factor: Loss changes us, for better or for worse.

Loss churns up the deepest of emotions -- fear, anger, love -- and shakes our need for security to the core. Our inner compass seems cracked, and we are left only with a question, "What now?"

I imagined such a thought hung heavy on the mind of my neighbor who returned to the site of her home on Ocean Avenue on the same day as I did, not to clean or gather belongings or even assess damages. The house and everything in it was gone. There was nothing to clean, nothing to gather. She sat motionless on a piece of foundation protruding from several feet of sand and just stared. The few houses that remained around her were toppled and broken like a child's toy city at the end of a day.

"What now?"

On that first day, the words, though unspoken, hung in the air as the silent entreaty of a whole community, a family navigating a loss that marked the destruction of a dream and the end of an era for each person. As we looked down streets lined with the remnants of personal histories, sometimes reflecting 50 years' worth of living, there was a clear understanding that things would never be the same.

But on each subsequent day, as the "now" moved into past tense and we shared our stories and commiserated about our losses, the persevering human spirit took hold, transforming the question into a statement: "Yesterday we grieved, today we build" - either a new home, a new life, or both.

And in the midst of destruction there were blessings, mostly in the shape of people; family, friends, neighbors and even strangers, who served as God's hands and feet and crying shoulder during the aftermath. For us, it was our upstairs tenant, Stacy, who weathered the storm in her flat to be available to help neighbors who might have stayed, and our downstairs tenant, Jeff, and his girlfriend, Anna, who returned from Florida in a trailer to help us clean out and rebuild.

It was the family who donned masks to helped us clean and provided food as we worked, and friends who offered refuge when needed. It is my daughter-in-law who established an "Operation Ortley" restoration site in their basement, gathering together, with the other women in our family, previously used furniture, appliances, and household necessities.

And it is my sons, who, in spite of work commitments, family responsibilities and back injuries, are willing to track through mud and mold, lifting and hauling all manner of things, to bring new life out of chaos.

Their efforts, and those of my neighbors who continually find the where-with-all to laugh and plan and share their rediscovered blessings with others, remind me of the pine cones falling from one of the few remaining trees in the corner of our yard. As we haul out furniture and barbeque grills and pieces of homes that belonged to our neighbors, these little seed packages continue to drop to the ground. Their purpose, designed into all living things by our God, is to give life.

An amazing thing about some pine cones is that they only open to release their seeds in the scorching heat of a forest fire. In this way, God assures that, in midst of destruction, the forest will come to life once again.

During the past month, many of us have walked our own little piece of "scorched earth," and from where I sit, in a little black rocker that will forever symbolize a transforming moment in our lives, I am certain that new life is already awakening.

For certainly God, in his generous love, would do no less for his people than for a simple pine tree.