This is what adults do

November 7, 2012

[Religion News Service] It was a week for grown-ups.

When Republican partisans lambasted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for collaborating with a Democratic president to rescue a state devastated by Hurricane Sandy, he tweeted, “We are adults. This is what adults do.”

When residents, officials and even runners themselves called on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to cancel Sunday’s New York City Marathon as an inappropriate “prance” through a storm-damaged city, the mayor reversed an earlier decision and canceled. This is what adults do.

Many marathoners, in turn, donned their orange race shirts and carried food and supplies to Staten Island, then stayed to help desperate homeowners reclaim flooded houses. This is what adults do.

Officials of electric utilities, transportation systems and schools stood before cameras and told it straight. Some will get restored first, and here’s why. Some schools won’t be able to reopen, and here’s why. No blaming. Just facts. This is what adults do.

In its remarkable nonstop coverage of the storm and its aftermath, New York’s WCBS-2 sent reporters out to the areas where people live. There they listened to residents and enabled an entire region to hear the tragic stories of homes lost, lives lost, jobs lost. This is what adults do.

We experienced the heroism of first responders. We saw adults in action: medical personal rescuing patients at two hospitals that needed to be evacuated, parents comforting frightened children, firefighters moving toward danger. This is what adults do.

When gasoline stations began to run out of fuel, drivers got in line, waited their turn, and, except for the occasional fistfight, seemed to grasp the need to be fair and calm. This is what adults do.

Many residents who had electricity ran extension cords out to sidewalks and invited neighbors to charge their cell phones. Civic-minded techies set up makeshift offices to help neighbors. This is what adults do.

Religious institutions jumped in with food, clothing, water and comfort. Volunteers from St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, for example, climbed to the top floors of Lower East Side tenements and found elderly residents trapped by infirmity and desperate for help. This is what adults do.

Hurricane week wasn’t a total victory for adulthood. In wealthy neighborhoods untouched by Sandy, residents who pay dearly to get their needs met insisted that nannies, doormen and custodians leave their own storm-damaged homes to honor employment contracts. High-end suburbanites in Long Island demanded preference because, they argued, they pay such high property taxes. Some disappointed marathoners staged an impromptu in-your-face run that took them merrily past bedraggled residents lining up for gasoline.

Sometimes, they showed, adulthood doesn’t always mean acting like an adult.

Tempers are fraying as recovery drags on, even here in a city that takes pride in its resilience. Even though people understand why the economic hub of Manhattan gets restored first, it’s still galling for residents of Queens to see Midtown glistening while they are burning furniture for heat.

After the most dreadful political season in memory, I took heart as leaders stepped up to lead and as adults stepped up to do what adults do. Those who have actual responsibilities carried them out, while those who lust for power were ignored. Those whose families were actually in danger put family first, while “family values” partisans were ignored.

This is what adults do.

– Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.

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