Bad Things Are Happening to People Who Aren’t Us, So Why Are We So Distracted
by Mike Dang and Logan Sachon
Logan: Mike, I’m pretty disappointed in my reaction to this storm over the past few days. Nothing Bad Happened to Me at All, but I’ve basically just been pretty much useless since Sunday. Today I had to scramble to find internet after mine went out, but once I found a place, I just … cannot do anything.
Mike: Well, I think it can be very easy to feel helpless after a big natural disaster like this.
Logan: Yeah, I’ve talked to friends who are “working from home” and they’ve described similar levels of un-productivity. And we’re all totally fine! I guess what’s hard to fathom is that while we’re okay, just blocks or neighborhoods or a borough away, things are totally different. But … it’s always like that! There are always people in crisis just down the street. Why does this feel so different then?
Mike: I was talking to our friend Ester about it, and she describes it as “survivor’s guilt.” We got out of this relatively unscathed, so now what? She just had a baby, but she’s been looking for a place near her Brooklyn apartment to donate blood. I can work at home fine, and I can make myself focus if need be, but I’ve been thinking about how I’d much rather be hitting the streets and helping out than posting blog updates. That’s why I put myself on all those volunteer lists. It’s almost selfish, in a way. Being able to go out there would make me happy.
Logan: In 2005, when Katrina happened, I was living in Los Angeles. I’d just gotten out of college, and I was working retail and an unpaid internship and having that WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE ennui that lasted for … years. Anyway. I became obsessed with Katrina, and I wanted to go there so badly, to do … something. I mean, this is very related to my years-long pseudo plans to just move to some developing country and do … something. Help … somehow. I was planning on driving down. It was such a dumb plan. And I told my dad and he was like, what skills are you going to bring? There is nothing that you can do down there that someone who isn’t there can’t already do. You would just be another mouth to feed in a disaster area.
And he was totally right. I had nothing to offer. After that I became obsessed with applying to nursing school for awhile. That didn’t happen … obviously. Anyway, it’s just very humbling to realize you have no actual skills and you can’t actually help people in need, not really. And I still don’t.
Mike: But, I think you can still help out with limited skills. Giving blood is just finding a donation location and letting them poke at you. I was on the phone with the New York Public Advocate office today. They’re organizing volunteers by borough for various things. When they called me, they just said they got my information and thanked me for registering, and I said, “Well, do you have anything for me to do?” And they said, “Not at the moment. But, yes, in the coming days and weeks ahead, we may need you to help clean parks, or go door to door with important information for local business owners, or check up on neighbors.” I think just having the willingness to help is useful, especially when help is limited in areas, because nobody can really get anywhere right now. Does that encourage you to volunteer?
Logan: Not really. Volunteering, helping others is something I think about a lot and don’t do anything about. There are thousands of people in this city living in dire straits everyday. It feels kind of … I don’t know, disingenuous to know that and see that and not do anything, and then now be like, THIS HURRICANE HAPPENED I MUST HELP. People are in crisis everyday, and I don’t do anything. Why now? I don’t want to pick up a few branches and pat myself on the back for it.
Mike: So my question for you then is if you feel like my desire to hit the streets right now is disingenuous?
Logan: NOO. NO. I just meant that for me. I’m pretty negative about my own motivations. There is some self-loathing going on here, for sure.
Mike: I mean, this is what we do when disaster strikes, right? We come together as a community? And I’ve been very warmed by that — by seeing so many people willing to lend a hand, or at least offer friends in the city a place to go where there is electricity and a hot shower. I feel lucky to be part of this community.
And, well, you’re being honest. Not everyone wants to clean a park right now, and that’s the truth. And there are probably people who see my desire to help as disingenuous. But I really do want to help. What do you want to do?
Logan: What I’d like to do is buy 100 pizzas and have them delivered to a shelter. But I can’t afford that. So instead I’m just sitting here.
Mike: I just got a call from the Public Advocate’s office asking me if I can do a shift tomorrow evening serving food to homeless people in a mobile truck. I said yes. It’ll be the least I can do.
Logan: Oh, good. That’s great.
NOTE, ADDED SOME HOURS LATER AFTER REREADING AND THINKING, WOW, I SOUND LIKE AN ASSHOLE, BY LOGAN:
This topic — helping our fellow humans in times of crisis and not — really deserves more time/thought/opportunity for NUANCE than a ten-minute gchat at the end of a long day. My pizza comment was totally flippant, and is in want of SOME CONTEXT. So, a bit: I don’t have the emotional energy to take on anyone else’s problems (or joys) right now. This has been true in my life for some time — there have been long periods when I’ve spent all of my emotional energy on others. So yes, I want to help, of course I want to help. I want to, I’d like to, but for now, it’s all I can to do the small things I have to do in my own life. It’s a hard-learned lesson that I keep having to learn again and again: Take care of yourself first, help others when you can after. Donating money (or pizzas) is a way to help without having to get emotionally involved. Selfish, yes. But for me, now, necessary. (I’m imagining here the argument that this is bullshit, and that I should be able to lend my body and time without getting all bent out of shape. It has been my experience that I can’t actually do that.) OKAY LOGAN OUT.