Corlears Hook Park, next to our building, used to have whole rows of stately old trees, 80 or 90 years old. When we first moved to the neighborhood, I kept taking pictures: it seemed the trees demanded it.
Three came down in Hurricane Irene and another nine in Hurricane Sandy, and the park has a completely different feel now: more open, brighter, yet without the majesty of the tall trees.
Corlears Hook park was damaged by the winds of Sandy. Across the FDR Drive, the East River Park flooded. A month later, there are still piles of rubble, flotsam and jetsam, tree limbs, and garbage: there just isn't enough people power to get everything cleaned up. The dog run is in shambles.
These are local reminders that a month later, people in the region are still homeless, still suffering in various ways from the storm's destruction. And I keep thinking of people and places elsewhere in the world: the tsunami in Japan, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the earthquake in Haiti. Civilians, many of them children, in places riven by war, drought, famine.
My internal landscape was shaken by the hurricane, and I'm left more aware of the people around the world who suffer from ecological and political catastrophes. At worst, I'm paralyzed: there's too much suffering, and I can do too little.
Yet I'm fortunate that my institution has given me space to develop two courses on the environment, and in those courses, I can help bring students to awareness of climate change and the resulting problems. It seems too little, a tiny ripple in an immense pond, yet it's what I can do.
And so I need to push away the feeling that the world's problems are too big, and my capacities too small, and keep doing what I can do, and hope that those around me will also be inspired to action, and the ripple effects will build.