It takes a crisis at home to bring our feet back to earth. Like most Yalies, I spent Hurricane Sandy in the cloistered safety of our fortress-like dormitories. But while some watched the news reports with ambivalence, I watched attentively as the storm made its landfall on my hometown of 19 years, Atlantic City, N.J.
Attracted to the casino boom, my Mexican immigrant parents ended up in Atlantic City. I was born and raised in a tourist town, one whose residents mostly serve, cook and clean for millions of visitors. I grew up in the Jersey working class: My life was a Junot Diaz novel and the setting was Bruce Springsteen’s Jersey Shore.
I left this town in a mad dash for the ivory towers of New Haven and the promises of a life I felt I finally deserved. To understand my audacity and my arrogance you must understand my feelings of yearning. For someone like me, Yale was a getaway ticket: a key to the promised lands my family had spent two decades trying to reach.
But to go from the Jersey Shore to Yale has not been a smooth journey. The monotony of the daily grind and constant feelings of my insecurity made me long for the aimless walks in my city, the runs on the boardwalk where I would daydream of my future, or the comfort of my small home two blocks from the beach. My first two years were spent languishing in an unbearable loneliness and homesickness, a condition that could not be alleviated by promises that “things would get better.”
Yet no one back home could know. Not my teachers who saw promise in me; not my friends in whose eyes I saw genuine sadness upon our goodbyes; and certainly not my family, who were shouldering an enormous burden in my journey to Yale.
Adventures taken for our own fulfillment are inherently selfish acts. We only stop to consider the life changes occurring within us. We expect order and routine back home. As prodigal sons and daughters, we expect orderly lives and homes to greet us when we return from our journeys. I never once considered the heartache of my family. The world was my oyster, but somehow my home was to remain the same.
The storm’s pummeling of my hometown returned to me a perspective I had almost lost. Suddenly, the matters of Yale seemed trivial. My family, neighbors and friends were forced off of our island city, as Governor Christie’s evacuation order left the city to nature’s mercy. I still remember my sister’s desperate phone call, as the shock of the order and its implications crossed her mind for the first time. In a very brutal way, Hurricane Sandy reminded me that I come from a place, one that is populated by loved ones, friends and neighbors. Time did not stop ticking when I left it.
On my Thanksgiving break, I was greeted by disheveled city. In it, reigned a collective melancholy that I did not share in. While my home only suffered flooding and would require some relatively minor renovations, others were less fortunate. I walked past the sight of my neighbors receiving rations from the Red Cross. Garbage and debris went uncollected for weeks as the city brought its public services back online.
But I knew this recovery would occur without me. Eventually, our home moves on without us. In a similar way, we will learn to face life’s traumas without the immediate comforts of home. For some people in the affected region, a physical home is still not guaranteed: some storm victims remain displaced and many more are still struggling financially.
But Sandy could not destroy my love for my family and friends, my hometown, and the difficult lessons learned here. While our homes are increasingly less ours as we grow up and begin to drift away, it is important to remember that we carry parts of home in our strength, our principles and our memories. A few days after the first anniversary of the disaster, I know some of that Jersey resilience and grit will accompany me as I face my own challenges amidst these ivory towers.
Juan Diaz is a junior in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.