Five months ago I crossed the street in New York City, tripped up and broke my foot. My life changed in a minute. Not forever, not in a way that couldn't be mended but it changed. As I tripped up and in the days that followed I consciously stopped myself from being a victim but despite my best efforts I ended up relying on friends and family (and wearing the same pair of trainers for a very long time). Five months on, I'm wearing shoes but I'm still a little scared of crossing the street.
Just over a week ago Hurricane Sandy struck New York. The apartment that had been my refuge was left without power. The friends that were my rescuers were left with no heat, no food and no gas. Trees smashed into houses, water levels rose and buildings were flooded indiscriminately. One week later as temperatures plunge some get back to normal and for others normal is a long way off. Their recovery, as mine was, will be slower than anticipated - and their plight runs the risk of being forgotten. A friend of mine who has breast cancer recently wrote about not wanting her life to drift too far from whatever "normal" is and not wanting to find herself living on "Planet Cancer". As I read her words I wondered if the victims of the Hurricane feel that their lives are slipping out of their control and if they fear that they might end up living on "Planet Sandy".
When I was growing up one of my favourite books was To Kill a Mockingbird. I love the bit which says that "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." It's been on my mind over the past days, as I've asked myself how do we practically take responsibility for doing that? Can we make change happen and make a real difference? We can help those who have been affected by Sandy by volunteering, by donating money, by remembering that they need our help and that recovery will take a long time. We can step into the shoes of others by developing projects and programmes that allow us to work together - (The Three Faiths Forum in London has developed a project bringing artists together that does just that, launching in a couple of weeks).
In his acceptance speech this week President Obama said that "while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are a(n American) family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.". I was struck by the truth of his words and reminded once again just how easy it is for everything to change in a minute and that it's all too easy to take things for granted. I was reminded that we need to take responsibility not just for ourselves but for those around us. And when things feel tough (and when I get fed up of wearing that same pair of trainers) we need to step into the shoes of others and remember just how lucky we are.
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