UNINVITED GUEST: Hurricane Sandy left many things topsy-turvy at the Jersey Shore.
Hurricane Sandy did a whole lot of mischief here at the Jersey Shore. So much so that Halloween has been canceled* by order of the governor. I doubt anyone cares. We’re too busy looking for power, gasoline, and cell service to celebrate anything more than our safety and that of our loved ones.
Any Jersey Shore native worth his or her salt has lived through a few hurricanes and many a nor’easter. Few of us has seen anything like this. Where I live two miles inland from Mantoloking, New Jersey, we lost power and saw a lot of downed trees. A mile east and all the way to the bay, the water was four feet deep yesterday. The main road is clear today, but the smell of diesel fuel is strong closer to the bay that separates us from the barrier island. Boats that were knocked off their boatyard perches and found their way into the street and onto people’s porches.
I won’t lie. I was badly frightened Sunday evening as Sandy came barreling toward us. I watched the big, old trees swaying and worried that one in particular would come crashing down in my living room. As I considered that tree, I was reminded how often we fear the wrong things. I worried, for example, about many potential threats when my children were young. Mental illness was not one of them and it killed my child.
So I didn’t let the fear of that tree get the better of me. I stayed out of the living room during the witching hour and woke up Monday to find trees down in my neighbors’ yards, but only a large branch in mine.
I’m about to lose hundreds of dollars worth of food in my freezer as the 48-hour window for freshness closes and ice is a distant dream. The temperature is supposed to go down to the 30s tonight, so who knows, perhaps that problem will be solved by an uncomfortable grace.
No matter what happens, like millions of other people on the East Coast, I’m reminded again how uncertain life is and how little control we have over it. What we can control is how we prepare—physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually—and how we respond. Nerves are frayed and tempers are short, my own included. But generosity and kindness are strong.
At the Hilton Garden Inn in Lakewood, New Jersey, where many are awaiting news of their island homes, the staff has been extraordinary, even to those of us who aren’t staying in the hotel. Business has been suspended in a sense and replaced by community service and compassion. Disasters, as we repeatedly learn are common grace moments. We should treasure them, even as we mourn and struggle through. I don’t have any thoughts more profound than that today.
*Correction: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie postponed Halloween until Nov. 5. He didn’t cancel it.
NEW YORK UNDERWATER: A photo taken on Oct. 29, 2012, shows vehicles on a flooded street in the Queens Borough of New York City. Hurricane Sandy, the tenth hurricane this year, was one of the strongest storms ever to slam the U.S. East Coast. (Photo: Wang Chengyun/ZUMA Press/Newscom)
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and the unprecedented havoc that she wrought, there is a tremendous need for support services for those that sustained damage to their homes and businesses, as well as the first responders and volunteers on the ground who will be helping them. Many people are still without electricity, facing flooding, a shortage of food, and the potential loss of property and income. While emergency personnel from both local and state governments are working to assist many in the affected regions, there is always a need for more support. You can help by donating money to relief organizations. Below is a list of just a few. Feel free to add others to the comments section.
In addition, one of the most important things we can do is to pray for Sandy’s victims, as well as the emergency responders and volunteers who will be helping them in the days ahead. The Christian Post offers this list of specific needs that you can use to focus your prayers.
Charities Offering Services for Hurricane Sandy Victims
World Vision is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to serving the world’s poor. It also has team in place to respond quickly to natural disasters in the U.S. and around the globe.
On Sunday evening as I was relaxing after dinner, my gallbladder violently rebelled against the meal (scrambled eggs and sautéed zucchini). This would not be worth writing about, except that, for the first time in my adult life, I don’t have health insurance. When, late last year, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey informed me that my $600+ per month individual plan rate would increase to $753 (just for me), I knew I was done. My husband is retired with a work-related medical disability, you see, and we were fast approaching financial insolvency as we awaited the resolution of his decade-old workers’ compensation case. (That’s a story worth telling about the kinds of people who can outlast insurance companies in court, but one for another day.)
As I was doubled over in pain and retching in my bathroom, I begged God for relief so that I wouldn’t have to go to the emergency room and possibly have a surgery that would plunge my family into thousands of dollars worth of debt. I thought about the millions of people who have lived this reality for years and felt ashamed of myself for having been so indifferent to their plight for so long. God answered my prayer eventually, but I woke up Monday morning dry heaving from the taste of bile rising in my throat.
I made an appointment with my primary care physician, hoping he would give me the green light to delay the surgery that had been recommended last year until August, when I’ll be eligible for NJ Protect, a federally subsidized health insurance plan for New Jersey residents who have pre-existing conditions, but who haven’t had health insurance for at least six consecutive months. The doctor did give me the green light to wait, along with dietary and homeopathic recommendations and a prescription in case I have another attack. For this, I paid $100.
Do Economic Conservatives Believe Small Business Owners Will Be a Drain on the Economy?
Before he came into the room, however, I told his nurse that I would need him to fill out a form for NJ Protect affirming that I have a pre-existing condition. She began grilling me about my situation. “Can’t you get a job?” she asked. “I have a job. I’m an independent journalist,” I said. She wanted to know how I get paid. God only knows why I submitted to this inquest, but I told her I have contracts for steady work, but given the state of journalism (especially since fall 2008 when I moved from California back to New Jersey and began job hunting), it doesn’t matter how hard or much I work, I will never be able to afford $753-a-month for health insurance. I didn’t bother telling her about my supplementary work in catering or substitute teaching, and I didn’t tell her that I’d just been tapped for a coveted vocational school teaching job that I had to decline because of the kind of senseless bureaucratic regulations that many, including me, fear “Obamacare” will usher in.
Her rudeness got me thinking though. What is it, I wonder, about my free-market loving friends that makes them willing to suggest, even by default, that entrepreneurs and small business owners like me will be a drain on our national resources or that we have some sort of moral obligation to take corporate jobs in order to be deserving of affordable health care? I’m not speaking of her, of course, but of the plethora of conservative pundits who rail incessantly against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in the name of freedom. I don’t get it. Are they saying I shouldn’t be free to choose the kind of work that best suits me, my God-given temperament, and the needs of my family? Or that if I do, tough luck when I get sick? If it weren’t for the exorbitant cost of health care, I’d be earning enough income right now to meet my family’s modest financial needs. We can even manage the subsidized plan at $369-a-month now that my husband’s case has settled, but that’s a function of the ACA, so they’d like to deny me that.
Do Family Values Conservatives Think Mothers Reentering the Work Force Are Undeserving of Health Care?
On Tuesday, someone asked me what I thought of the Supreme Court ruling on the ACA. I took a deep breath and said I was glad it wasn’t struck down, because I need affordable health insurance sooner rather than later and the ACA is the engine that will give it to me.
I probably would have opposed it a decade ago when my husband was earning a six-figure income in home improvement sales and we were owners of an apartment building in addition to our own home. But then my husband’s back gave out and he spent several years trying to do other kinds of work before he was forced to retire at age 47. He now lives in crippling pain every day and takes care of the house. His medical expenses will be covered for the rest of his life through Medicare, a supplementary plan that we pay for, and workers’ comp. He’s eligible, in part, for these benefits because he worked outside the home and was injured at work, while I mostly stayed home and raised children for 20 years.
So, what I’d also like to know is why the family values crowd thinks it’s okay to abandon women like me, who bought into their message and eschewed careers, but then had to re-enter the workforce because of death, divorce, or disability without the benefit of a strong work history? Is this really how they want to repay us? You know, the uninsured mothers who serve as teachers’ aides in their children’s classrooms, or bring them their salad at The Cheesecake Factory, or wipe their aging parents’ bottoms so they don’t have to?
Does Pro-Life Concern for Women Only Extend to Their Utility as Symbols for a Cause?
And, what about my fellow pro-lifers? All they seem concerned about when it comes to the ACA is the contraception mandate. Don’t they care about women like me who dropped out of college to have our babies instead of aborting them because we heard and believed their message, but then are forever playing catch up career-wise? Don’t they owe us some level of fidelity for living out what they merely preach? Or did we only matter to them when our stories affirmed their cost-free convictions?
These are serious questions, not accusations. A freedom-loving, family values, pro-life writer is asking them.
Now, I understand that one reason an individual health insurance plan is so expensive in New Jersey is because insurers here are not permitted to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions and insuring everybody drives up costs. But, I thank God New Jersey is ahead of the curve in this regard. In California, I could not purchase insurance for my son after he was routinely kicked off our family plan as a young adult and then diagnosed with a debilitating, uninsurable condition.
He eventually got well with the help of a generous doctor who treated him on the cheap and a county health service that he still uses because so few specialists take his lousy $190-a-month individual plan. You see, he works for a non-profit organization as a warehouse supervisor, but like many employers, his employer hires most of its workforce for just under the number of hours at which employer-delivered health insurance is mandatory. I know what “government” care looks like and it isn’t pretty, but it’s something and I thank God for it.
I frequently hear insured people say that if the ACA survives, it will mean they won’t have access to timely medical care. This tells me they not only believe they have a right to health care, but that they have a right to the prompt delivery thereof. And yet, they don’t seem to think people like me and my son have any right to it at all. Well, I disagree with them. I need heathcare reform and I think I deserve it, not from “the government,” but from the society that my family and I have contributed to and served for most of our lives. I’m not saying Obamacare is the answer. I’m only saying that we need to solve this problem and the uncaring rhetoric of my conservative friends is speaking so loudly that I’m finding it difficult to hear anything else they’re saying about healthcare reform.
*Please note: an editorial change has been made to this article.
GOING ROGUE: Last Sunday, during a 'Meet the Press' panel discussion, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a surrogate for President Obama's re-election campaign, praised Obama's record but went off-message when he scolded the Obama campaign for negative ads.
On Monday night, I was out with friends when my pal Outlaw told me about another person there who’d made some less than flattering comments about him. Here’s the thing: Outlaw is my friend. This random guy running his mouth was not. So from there I went on to joke about the stranger, making assessments about his overall character and so forth. Then Outlaw laughed and said, “We can’t really speculate on who he is based on this one comment he made about me. You’re just saying all that stuff because you’re my friend.”
I replied, “Of course I am, duh! That’s what friends do.”
And I mean it. I believe that’s what friends are for: to love you unconditionally and support you when you need it. When your friend gets cheated on and calls you, your job is to pick her side and provide comfort. Now, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that pesky thing called accountability. When you’re wrong, your friends should tell you and hold you accountable. But when you’re in a fight –particularly physical ones — you expect your friends to jump in and sort out the details later. Right?
Well, it seems the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker, was in a bit of a quandary. I’m sure you’ve heard of him, but if not … Mayor Booker is a progressive young politician who enjoys immense popularity in his hometown and across the country. Many believe he has the potential to hold an even higher position, maybe even president! While he’s managed to appease liberals and conservatives alike in his home city, he primarily moves rank and file with President Obama and has been an outspoken and helpful backer of the Obama administration. When the President voiced his support of same-sex marriage, Cory Booker took to his Twitter feed (as he often does) to applaud and agree. One could say that Mayor Booker and President Obama are pretty chummy.
That was until Mr. Booker was interviewed on Meet the Press last week. Mayor Booker called the Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, “ridiculous” and “nauseating.” In case you haven’t seen it, I’ll let you take a look below.
When I saw Mayor Booker’s comments flicker across my timeline, I thought that I was surely misreading it. I mean, it’s one thing for lil ol’ me to disagree with President Obama (I do so pretty often, actually), but I’m not the President’s pal; I’m not an elected official; I’m not a leading voice in the Democratic party; and I don’t have anything close to Cory Booker’s 1,150,727 followers.
However, when Mayor Booker calls out the Obama campaign’s tactics, it makes us wonder … was it the right thing to do? The media recognized the spectacle right away, declaring that Booker had gone “rogue” and speculating on how damaging his words would be to the Obama campaign. After Booker released a personal video in a desperate attempt to clarify his comments, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough even suggested that Booker is “fighting for his political life.”
From my perspective, this controversy ultimately goes back to those old conflicting questions about friendship. Should Mayor Booker have stuck to his guns and his morals that said, “The political discourse has gone too far, we’ve got to get above the nasty fighting and stay above the fray?” Or should he have stood by his friend and fellow statesman who’s running in a tight race against a man that Mayor Booker surely doesn’t want to win the presidency?
It’s a tough call and one we often have to make in our personal lives. Do you stand by your friend even when you disagree with her cheating on her nice yet gullible boyfriend? Or do you call her on it and threaten to expose her if she doesn’t shape up and act right?
In this case, I too have some critical feedback for the Obama campaign’s tactics. The emails I’m getting from the Democratic National Committee often sound as divisive as a Fox News personality, and there’s an ad out that compares Mitt Romney to a vampire for “sucking jobs away from a steel town.” That type of rhetoric is polarizing and doesn’t resonate with the inspiring picture of our president that draws voters together. Perhaps Obama’s campaign does need to take a couple chill pills. However, I believe Mayor Booker could have expressed his concerns to the campaign without necessarily sharing them with the world. I can’t say for sure if the mayor already tried to do this and had to resort to airing his concerns on Meet the Press, but think about it this way: Drawing on the previous example, if your friend is cheating on her boyfriend, do you tell her to get right via Twitter or over a one-on-one brunch? Obviously, the personal, less-public option is the only way to go if you have any interest in preserving the friendship.
So, Mayor Booker, I agree with what you said; I just question if the setting was right.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s campaign now has a new star in their most recent attack ads against President Obama — the one and only Honorable Mayor Cory Booker.
Who. Woulda. Thunk?
If nothing else, this little episode tells us we should be gearing up for an ugly presidential election. Which is exactly what Cory Booker was trying to avoid.
Sugarhill Gang regoups as Rapper's Delight: Hen Dogg, Wonder Mike and Master Gee at the Garden State Film Festival. (Photo by Christine A. Scheller)
It’s been more than 30 years since a trio of young men from Englewood, New Jersey, recorded the first cross-over hip-hop hit, “Rapper’s Delight.” After a drawn-out legal battle with their former record label, Sugar Hill Records, two members of the original Sugarhill Gang, Mike “Wonder Mike” Wright and Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien, have teamed up with Henry “Hen Dogg” Williams in a group named for the Sugarhill Gang’s one big hit. The band’s evolution and protracted legal fight is the subject of a new Roger Paradiso documentary called I Want My Name Back.
The original Sugarhill Gang from back in the day, crica 1979.
I saw the film and a brief Rapper’s Delight performance at the Garden State Film Festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey, March 24. It’s a bitter film about how record label owners Sylvia Robinson, her husband Joe Robinson, and their sons allegedly defrauded the group members financially and then trademarked the name Sugarhill Gang and the stage names “Wonder Mike” and “Master Gee.” After Wright and O’Brien left the record label, the Robinson’s son Joe Jr. actually began performing as “Master Gee” with remaining original member Henry “Big Bank Hank” Franklin.
In the film, O’Brien says the Robinsons didn’t seem like crooks to him at first, in part because Sylvia Robinson was going to Bible studies when they met and “praising the Lord.”
Williams, who was a former producer at the now defunct Sugar Hill Records, says, “Big Joe was a crook, but he was an honest crook.” He would tell artists “straight up” what he was going to take from them.
O’Brien says he descended into a “deep state of violent depression” and began using drugs after parting ways with the Robinsons over their alleged thievery. He sold magazines door-to-door and says that helped him emerge from the depths. Because his anger isn’t as raw as Wright’s in the film, I thought perhaps faith or a 12-step program had played a role in his recovery. I was wrong.
“I did it myself,” O’Brien told UrbanFaith. “I just walked away from it. It didn’t benefit me. It made me worse, and in the situation, there was enough bad going around so I didn’t want to add to the equation.”
“I believe in the power of positive thinking and self-improvement,” he said. “I trained my brain and I maintained a really positive attitude. I looked at every adversity as a seed to an equal and greater benefit. That just gave me the opportunity to become stronger than whatever it was.”
Rapper's Delight: The hit that made hip-hop mainstream. (Photo by Christine A. Scheller)
Wright struggled with diabetes and asthma after he left the band and the record label, but he also started a successful painting business, got married, had children, and later divorced. He returned to the Sugar Hill label from 1994 to 2005, but says in the film that those years were “the dumbest years of my life.”
Perhaps this explains why the vitriole Wright hurls at Joe Robinson Jr. and Jackson is so aggressive and bitter. He gave the label a second chance and felt like he got burned again. He calls his former bandmate “gutless” and “heartless” in the film for not leaving with him.
But in 2000, when Joe Robinson Sr. was on his deathbed, Wright went to visit him in the hospital. Amidst all the anger and accusations in the film, I was surprised to hear him say he went there to pray with Robinson. I asked him about this after the screening and concert. He said he was able to pray with the man who had done him so much harm because “He [Christ] loved us first before we loved Him, and because He said, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.’ He forgave the people. He said, ‘Father, forgive them because they know not what they do.’ How many times do we forgive somebody? Seven times? No. Seventy times seven. And it’s grace. Grace can’t be earned. It’s mercy. Mercy has to be shown in unruliness.”
Wright then recounted the story of God’s mercy in delivering the Israelites on the banks of the Red Sea and with manna and a pillar of fire despite their complaining.
He said it was the “prayer of salvation” that he prayed with Robinson.
“I was hoping that he made that move because what they did to us was absolutely terrible–it can’t be overlooked, but eternity is eternity. This is for a small season, and it was really wrong, but you have to overlook that when you’re feet are on the edge of going over to the other side. So, I had to throw all that out the window. And, it really wasn’t hard when it came down to that. When it comes down to crossing over, we’re all one heartbeat, we’re all one breath away from eternity,” he said.
Wright is a person of faith, he said, but he doesn’t want to “put walls” around himself or “any kind of bondage” because “there’s freedom in Christ.”
“I want my priorities to be changed,” he said.
A painful journey exposed: Mike "Wonder Mike" Wright expresses it all in film and song. (Photo by Christine A. Scheller)
It was perhaps a necessary qualification because forgiveness, mercy, and an eternal perspective don’t come through in this film at all. But when he was introducing the band’s song, “I Want My Name Back,” during the concert he said the song and the film were “cathartic” for him. Thirty years worth of frustration and anger spill out on screen. Even after Wright and O’Brien reunited, Joe Robinson Jr. allegedly tried to sabotage their careers.
O’Brien told me the film was cathartic for him too, but said he has never seen it in its entirety. “For me, it’s just a little eerie, so I kind of take it in bits and pieces,” he said.
The music Rapper’s Delight performed was “clean” and upbeat. As someone who is far from being a rap aficionado, I thought perhaps I was guilty of stereotyping a genre, but in an interview with NPR Wright said the group’s message “wasn’t too heavy” and that what he “wanted to portray was three guys having fun.” This, music historians say, is why “Rapper’s Delight” was a such a big hit.
“When we strike up [Rapper’s Delight], the audience goes crazy 100 percent of the time,” Wright recently told The New York Times. “That’s love,” he said. “That’s appreciation. I’ll never take it for granted.”
Why is it that we expect perfect consistency from people of faith? While I can’t imagine myself publicly expressing the kind of raw, intensely personal anger that Wright expresses in this film, I’ve certainly felt it and communicated it in private, and I’ve never had my public identity stolen. Who knows what I would say and do if someone did that to me?