A few hours after the last winds had died down, I took my first walk through the downtown area, down Washington Street and to the river. My neighborhood looked like a demilitarized zone, with uprooted trees and downed power lines.
As I crested Washington Street's highest hill, it was clear that half the golf course at the Toms River Country Club was now a lake. As I pondered what my neighborhood would eventually look like once the hundreds of trees were cleared and the waters receded, I began to see pictures of the devastation elsewhere.
The Atlantic City boardwalk, which just one week prior I had run on as part of the Atlantic City Marathon series, was no longer there. Closer to home, the Seaside Heights I had played at as a child and skulked around as a high school-er was flooded, buried, or worse.
Most of these images, including the now iconic roller coaster in the middle of the surf, started showing up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on Tuesday afternoon with captions like, "my childhood has been washed away" and "it will never be the same." The melodrama hit a high note with a poem someone had tweeted about the loss of the locales that had meant so much to his youth.
And as I saw these photos and read the "look at me" yelps of twenty and thirty-somethings making the destruction of Hurricane Sandy all about them, I felt a certain level of disgust for the whole thing.
Partly its my fault for turning to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram hoping to get anything but the self-important drivel that is usually found in the social media. Perhaps I was naive to think people might stop being themselves for a day or two in the face of tragedy.
I realize that it may seem insincere or hypocritical for the guy that usually writes about the restaurants and retail stores he misses from when he was growing up in Toms River, but I'm going to defend my previous articles if only because they weren't written a day after a devastating natural disaster.
When I left my first post-college job of five years for my current position, I fought back the sentimentality with this phrase from Dr. Seuss: "Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened."
There will be a time to look back and lament over those pictures of me and my sister riding the motorcycles and boat rides at Seaside when we were toddlers, but today in not that day. There will be a sad moment when I lounge around the house in my 2012 Atlantic City Marathon tee and realize it may be a while before they hold a race there again, but today is not that day (yes, this parallelism in from The Lord of the Rings).
Today is a day to smile. Not just because the memories of going on the rides and running races are something the storm cannot wash away. Today is a day to smile because on that same first walk through downtown, I saw neighbors in the lagoon neighborhood dragging their water-logged belongings to the curb while tapping a keg in the middle of their block, turning their despair into fellowship.
Today is a day to smile because my wife and I were turned away at TR North when we tried to donate toiletries because they simply had too much already.
Today is a day to smile because it took me three hours to sort just a fraction of the baby clothes and Chef Boyardee and dog food and shoes and sheets and water that people had poured into the Toms River Football Club field house at Riverwood Park.
This storm took homes, businesses, and lives. But it has given many, including myself, a renewed pride in my community and a restored faith in humanity.
So for those who are sitting there mourning the place you'll never be able to eat a slice of pizza again or grieving for a place you went one time before you could really remember it clearly, get up - get over it - and pitch in. There's work to be done for those who actually lost something in all of this. And something to be found in all of us.