There is a generally accepted idea that group healing is important. Argentina in 2002 was reeling from economic devastation and there was a lot of talking going into the World Cup that a win by the albiceleste could put the country back on track through some sort of cathartic party. Or something. Japan, the conventional wisdom went, would be aided in its recovery from the March 2011 tsunami if only their women could win that year’s World Cup. You’d have to ask the Japanese if that really did work.
This past week the eastern seaboard of the United States was hit by Hurricane Sandy. I blogged during the middle of it and referenced some of the disaster that had befallen people here, but my glib mention of yoga and surfing the Internet was before the reality truly set in. And, to be honest, I’m not sure it really has. As of now, there are millions of people without electricity, running water, and access to basic needs like food and warmth. The temperature is going down, thirst is creeping in, and people are trapped in their apartment buildings by the lack of power. The Rockaways were devastated. Red Hook was submerged. Coney Island lost its boardwalk. And that’s just in Brooklyn. The Jersey Shore is almost nonexistent. North Carolina’s coastal highways are buckled into Dr. Seuss stairways that lead to nowhere.
And on Sunday, the New York City Marathon will go off as planned.
Take Staten Island: 90% without power, flooded basements, destroyed homes. There are reports (as of yet unverified, but making the rounds on Twitter and via network news–I heard it on CBS this afternoon) that hotels are kicking out people there to make room for marathoners with reservations. The city has set up generators and water stations while swaths of the city remain without power or access to that vital, liquid substance that will be doused on runners. There will be foil wraps and orange slices for the finishers while there will be long lines and handouts of batteries and candles for those lucky enough to live near relief centers.
And on Sunday, tens of thousands of men and women will run through all five boroughs for recreation.
Sure, if you look hard enough, you’ll find a few pictures out there of me cleaning up small businesses in Red Hook, Brooklyn, but the total hours of that volunteering (8 or so) is less than I’ve spent playing FIFA13 or sitting on barstools since Sandy came through. I watched the disaster porn that is network TV news and Twitter for hours. Since Tuesday morning, I’ve cycled through hundreds of pictures of boats on streets and train tracks, lines at gas stations and food banks, and flooded subway stations. I’m getting paid to sit around and have a staycation.
My point is that I’m not a moral authority on anything and I certainly can’t point the finger at anyone for not helping on a personal level. The argument for the marathon is it will be cheering and a sense of normalcy. There will be hugging and crying and people running on costumes to remind us all that human spirit conquers adversity. Maybe the world will see what is really happening here and react accordingly. The marathon is a major charity event, with millions of dollars pouring into the coffers of various groups. We’ll be conquering so many things with this money.
Except, of course, that this rings hollow when the camera pans to the side and there’s a family hunkered down for the night against below freezing temperatures. The news coverage is 24/7 already. People have seen Atlantic City being overwhelmed, they looked at videos of the Breezy Point’s fire, and have gasp along with the workers going down into the subway for the first time. Most of us can pick the fake pictures on Twitter out from the real ones without batting an eye. What catharsis is the marathon or any sporting event going to provide that heat to an apartment building won’t? What will giving Gatorade to joggers do to help the family that lost their house and now have nowhere to stay? The generators they’re using for media tents could power 400 homes.
I don’t claim to know what it costs to cancel a marathon, but I also don’t claim to care. I know people train for months, sometimes years to run in the NYC marathon. I know some have traveled from around the world for this. I know the organizational intensity of these things because I’ve witnessed it first hand each of the last 4 years. But no, I won’t be watching Barça-Celta tomorrow and I won’t be attending the marathon. Tomorrow, I’ll likely be knee-deep in someone’s basement tossing the rotting, destroyed remnants of their life to the curb or removing the walls of their tumbled homes from their streets so emergency vehicles can pass. People who need a place to shower and get some hot food will be at my house. Friends will be staying with us.
Sports heal us emotionally. Sports are cathartic when they’re not diverting police and emergency teams from those who are literally dying rather than cramping. Bloomberg says the city will remain uncowed by the hurricane and as such will “fight through the pain” to pull off a road race that could easily be delayed a few weeks to allow for recovery efforts. It is unacceptable and it is unconscionable to continue with this plan.