This has been an extremely hard piece for me to write. Partly because I have been quite ill as of late. And also due to the fact that this piece is about something that happened during hurricane Sandy, the deadly storm that ripped through my beloved East Coast, brining death and destruction to almost every area of my home town.
You see I am a New Yorker, born and bred in Brooklyn, NY. It is a point of pride for me, something I proclaim with at least once a day. And the story that I am struggling to share flies in the face of what I know to be the truth of my experience of new Yorkers – it shakes me foundationally. Breaks my heart.
Let me begin. An African America mother, Glenda Moore was making an attempt to get to family members in Brooklyn, when her SUV was overtaken by the storm; the waves swept over her car. She was able to free her children from the car which was full of water “over their heads”. Holding her children to her she got out of the car, and while being pelted by gale force winds, managed to walk from the road to several houses of people in her town asking for help. But she was refused assistance from every single one!
At the last home, she hunkered down and held on to her children for dear life. She huddled on the door begging and pleading for help – she was told by the man inside the house, “I don’t know you. I can’t help you.”
Mrs. Moore huddled with her children at the door way of this house doing the best she could to shelter them with her body – finally the family was faced with a huge wave, her children were ripped from her arms and carried away! The distraught mother again pounded on the door begging for help, she even went as far as to attempt to break the window of the house to gain entrance. When all this failed the exhausted and broken hearted women remained on the porch of this house in tears until the storm subsided, and she was able to bring the authorities attention to her situation. The NYC police acted quickly and a search was started – her little ones, Connor and Brandon, ages 4 and 2 were discovered a quarter mile away from where their mother last held them. They were dead.
The horror of this story haunts me – and I keep asking, why, why? Why wouldn’t any of her neighbors help a 5 foot 3 inches, 130 pound woman, holding on to two little boys in a historically violent storm.
Why? Was it because she, Mrs. Moore, was African American, and the homeowners she went to for help were white? The owner of the last home she stopped at swears that he didn’t see a woman, he saw a man – and that he refused to open the door, because he didn’t want to put himself in danger… So does this mean that this country’s historical fear of African American men is to blame for the deaths of these two sweet little boys?
I was also very alarmed to read reports of this event on mothering blogs, was shocked to see how many people actually blamed this mother: why didn’t she evacuate? Why was she driving with the children in the car? Etc. Really? Is that really who we are as a nation?
Through my own tears I remind ourselves of the process in psychology called cognitive dissonance – this thought process allows us to remove ourselves from distressing thoughts or feelings. For example – instead of holding on to the horrendous feelings brought about by a story like this – cognitive dissonance allows for some of us to brush the matter away by blaming this mother for the death of her sons; we can then feel easier inside. We don’t have to consider that most important question – that of self-responsibility, the deep question: what would I do if this was me; who or how would I help? Would I open my door? Would I react out of fear and racism, or would I let my humanity and spirituality, my morals, guide my steps?
My heart aches because I know that somewhere Mrs. Moore is sitting in a room, blaming herself. Her lovely children have been buried and the president has given her a hug, but my mother’s heart knows and fears that she is asking herself right now – why didn’t I hold on tighter? As a mother I know that – had I been in her position – this thought would haunt me day and night.
How I wish that I could speak to you Glenda. How I wish that I could hold your hand, look you in the eyes and tell you the truth: YOU are a hero. You acted in every breath and by every ounce of your strength as a fierce mother warrior for your children.
1 you were attempting to take them to family.
2 you fought gale force winds to get them out of an SUV covered in water and brought both children to the doorsteps of several homes, while being pelted with wind and rain…
3 You held on to two children with all your might for hours, until they were ripped from you.
You did all that you could do as one lone human being could do. You did Momma, you did. I hope that loved ones repeat this over and over to you – until you can believe it. I hope that your broken heart heals and that your life is blessed with this healing. My deepest condolences to you and your family.
For the rest of us, my beloved New Yorkers and the rest of this beautiful nation, I do hope that we take the time to review this sad episode. I hope that we don’t just brush it off and go back to business as usual. I hope that we dare to be uncomfortable and ask the most important of questions… what would I do when the stranger knocks?
The answer to this question speaks volumes about what his country truly stands for – when the chips are down… who are we, really?