It Takes a Village (one person, THE MAYOR, and NYS DEC)

MPH on the Pier

As the pandemic raged and then retreated, then returned with Deadly Delta weaponry, I watched the numbers, social distanced, wore my masks, and thankfully extended my arm in the CVS in Valatie, New York, twice to receive the Moderna vaccine. I worked from home, covered for my direct reports when they took COVID leaves, checked in with and carefully visited my beloved family. And as a Public Health professional (New York Medical College, class of 2010, MPH, Maternal Child Health) I sought to have some even small involvement in the fight contacting my Alma Mater for any volunteer activities, supplying hand soap and bleach wipes for my colleagues in my workplace, and putting up signs in restrooms with the CDC hand washing Happy Birthday twice protocol. ( ) I had a contest with my staff challenging them to come up with other songs or rituals to accomplish the required soaping time (“Staying Alive,” “I Will Survive,” “The Final Countdown,” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”)

News, reports, statistics, graphs, and trends were constants: I had dreams about Anthony Fauci. One escape that was available was the Piermont Pier, an extension of land mass protruding for a mile into the Hudson River, the conduit for WW II troops embarking on ships to Europe, including the shores of France. The Pier had actually been closed for several months at the height of the pandemic, the local government fearful that even walkers, joggers, bikers wearing masks outdoors might be spreading the virus. On weekends the treelined promontory would fill with visitors, bus loads from neighboring towns, camps, and residents of New York City. An article in the local Patch on August 22, 2020, referred to our lovely Pier as a “social distancing nightmare;” shortly thereafter the police barriers went up across the entrance. We Piermonters were allowed access with permits and I could once again find refuge from the Corona.

One early spring day 2021, as I was running (electronic speed sign actually registered me at 4 MPH) I was encouraged by the signs of new life. My husband and I had just gotten our second shots, shops and restaurants in our little village were opening with tables and chairs on the sidewalks extending into the streets, I was dazzled by actual faces in Stop and Shop. On the Pier new sprouts were coming from the base of last year’s dead marsh grasses, the waterbirds, egrets and herons wading into the shallows eyeing little flashes of their breakfast beneath the surface, the loons and ducks and Canada Geese floating on the undulating waves surrounding me. (“Oh, Canada,” if only your border were open or I could fly in on the feathered wings of Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese “high in the clean blue air, heading home again,”
( )
This one slice of life seemed to have finally returned to normal. I breathed the estuarial fog directly into my maskless nostrils.

But there was one disturbing detail that entered into my experience. Amidst the other hopeful new growth; there were a few glossy leaflets emerging from the muddy earth against the trunks of trees that gave me an almost undetectable twinge of fear. I tried to avert my eyes, refocus on a red red robin that was bob bob bobbin along the path, but too late. I knew what was insidiously hovering just below the surface of the soil on the southside of the pier. I knew those lovely green trifoliate leaves with the glimmer of red: POISON IVY.

Toxicodendron radicans, commonly known as eastern poison ivy, is an allergenic Eastern North American plant in the genus Toxicodendron. It is well-known for causing urushiol-induced contact dermatitis, an itchy, irritating, and sometimes painful rash in most people who touch it. The rash is caused by urushiol, a clear liquid compound in the plant’s sap.

Even for those of us for whom the danger of urushiol is known for causing the painful rash, there were places on the Pier where it was almost unavoidable. I recalled the previous summer when vines of poison ivy dangled above the roadway, so that a cyclist or runner might literally run head first into the leaves, or someone retrieving a ball or hat blown into the marsh grass would stick their hands directly into the low growing vines, or a dog would wander into the treed (and previously pee-d) areas to use a trunk for doggy business and rub against leaves, then to be petted by it’s devoted owner.

But as I had often experienced, there were many visitors to the Pier who did not know that the pretty shiny red and green leaves were dangerous. I met a couple walking on the Pier who were picking the leaves to add to a bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace and Cornflowers. I asked them please to take the leaves out and go wash with soap and water asap. But why? These leaves are so beautiful! There was a group of children playing tag with a stump covered with ivy vines as home base. I talked to their parents. They thought I was a little crazy for interfering with their children’s fun. And, the death-defying gentleman who stepped off the path and into the almost private space among the vines to relieve himself. I struggled ethically with this existential predicament, but did not converse with him about his exposure and possible exposure to urushiol.

These and many other experiences seemed to define me as a kind of nutty nature cop. Really, I didn’t want to intrude in anyone’s botanical aesthetics, or fun or “relief,” but the thought of people so unaware of the dangers of poison ivy was terrifying. Yes, to some people there is a nasty rash and itch, a contact dermatitis, which can last two to three weeks, and can be treated at home:

The most important action is to thoroughly wash the affected area with soap and water as quickly as possible. Also make sure your hands, including under your nails, are cleaned of any sap. This will prevent the oil from spreading and from contaminating other parts of your body. Pat your skin dry gently; do not rub as this can irritate the skin. Wash your clothing and any tools or equipment you handled that may have been in contact with the plants.
Once your skin has been cleaned, you may find relief from the itching by trying these remedies:
• Cold compresses: Soak a clean washcloth with clean, cold water and wring it as dry as possible. Place the cloth on the rash for about 15 to 30 minutes. This can be repeated several times a day.
• Oatmeal baths: Add oatmeal or oatmeal bath treatment to a running bath and soak in the tub for about a half hour.
• Topical lotions and creams: Over-the-counter products, such as calamine lotion and hydrocortisone creams (applied lightly) can help reduce itching and swelling.
• Over-the-counter antihistamine medications, such as Benadryl
It is very important not to scratch the rash or pop any blisters, as this can cause an opening for infection.
Oh yeah……That’s the tough part; when your skin is crazy itching, not to scratch!!!!! Just think about when you have a regular little itch that is in some hard to navigate area of your body’s geography. Then think about whole continents of itching. DON’T SCRATCH!!!!!
But for some people it’s beyond the redness and itching and submerging in an ocean of calamine lotion. Poison ivy can cause severe reactions to people who are allergic to the sap and can experience the following, requiring medical treatment.
• Severe swelling
• Swelling of the lips and tongue
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Even those who aren’t allergic to poison ivy, may need to see a doctor if they develop complications or have a severe poison ivy reaction, such as:
• The rash covers the face (lips, eyes, mouth) or genitals.
• The rash covers more than a quarter of the body’s surface.
• Breathed in smoke from burning poison ivy.
• Treatment at home does not relieve the rash or itch.
Scratching poison ivy rash or blisters can cause breaks in the skin that can become infected. If any signs or symptoms of an infection develop, a doctor should be seen as soon as possible especially it there is Increasing pain around the wound and fever.
Perhaps my vigilance about poison ivy is a flashback to my childhood. Shortly after my parents bought a piece of beautiful wooded property where they were to have our family home built in Stony Brook, New York, my parents, two older sisters and I, spent a day raking and clearing leaves and vines, which my father piled up and yes, he built a fire. We thought this was great fun, and as we cooked hot dogs and toasted marshmallows, we threw more and more leaves into the fire. The more and more leaves included some red and green glossy trifoliates. For the next couple of weeks we itched and tried not to scratch, bathed in oatmeal and smeared on the calamine. We went to the doctor, but miraculously none of us had breathed in enough of the smoke to damage our lungs. So even if the fear of poison ivy isn’t actually embedded into my DNA, it is certainly etched into my early childhood psyche.
So there I was on the Pier, early spring 2021. I foresaw a summer of warning people, interfering with fun, ethically challenged by some very personal behaviors in a public place. What to do? And then it occurred to me: this was a Public Health issue. Yes, a serious threat not just to individuals, but to a whole population of Pier visitors. It was time for government intervention.
As a governmental agency, here’s what the United States’ Center for Disease Control has to say:

Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities. This work is achieved by promoting healthy lifestyles, researching disease and injury prevention, and detecting, preventing and responding to infectious diseases. Overall, public health is concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. These populations can be as small as a local neighborhood, or as big as an entire country or region of the world.


The government of Piermont consists of a Mayor, Trustees, Planning Board, Building Department, governmental employees like the Village Clerk, the Department of Public Works staff, Parks and Recreation, of course the Fire Department, and our Piermont Police Department (who have come to my rescue in various situations like when during the first week I lived in my house in Piermont, I locked myself out of my bedroom and they had a clever way of unlocking it, and when I was brought home by my daughter after my ankle surgery, they carried me down the 20 steps to my house.) I considered the level of governmental involvement the poison ivy invasion required and went with the Office of the Mayor.

The Mayor of Piermont is Bruce Tucker, is a retired businessman (former CEO of a multi-million dollar textile company) and a Democrat. I looked on the Piermont website and got this little bio and his email address:

Bruce Tucker has been Mayor of Piermont since 2018. He has been an active member of the Piermont community for the last 27 years. Prior to becoming Mayor, Bruce served as a board member at the Piermont Community Playgroup, the Dennis P. McHugh Piermont Library, the Piermont Historical Society, and the Rockland Center for the Arts, additionally serving as Treasurer for the latter three groups. Bruce is also a member of the Piermont Democratic Committee, and a former Alternate on the Village of Piermont Zoning Board

Mayor Tucker (as he signs his emails to me) is up for re-election, so I thought maybe he would want a crusade to stake his campaign to…..poison ivy on the Pier.

I sent a nice email, identifying myself as a Public Health professional by adding the MPH to my signature, and expressed my concern for the residents and visitors to our lovely little village

Good afternoon Mayor Tucker,
My husband and I live I Piermont and we said a quick hello to you after the parade on Memorial Day. I am very concerned about the poison ivy on the Pier. It is rampant, enveloping trees, hanging over the road and so well established it is bearing berries. Although many of us know to stay away, I have concerns about visitors especially children who may touch, rub against it, even possibly pick the leaves, eat the berries. I realize that removing the PI from the Pier would be very difficult and we certainly don’t want to use chemicals that would undoubtedly end up in our river. I am wondering if we can post some warning signs at the entrance to the Pier, and along the way, and if there are places where it can at least be cut back without risking the safety of our DPW staff.

Please let me know if there would be some way that (short of ripping it out with my bare hands) I could assist.
Thank you.
Best wishes,
Karel R. Amaranth, MPH, MA

Hi Karel,

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation owns the south side of the Pier, so we are not allowed to touch it. I did make them aware of the situation – this was their reply:

Thanks for passing this on. But the DEC does not normally eradicate a native species like that. Is the poison Ivy encroaching on the road? I am not sure it would ever be possible to eradicate Poison Ivy… and I would imagine it would require an herbicide.

As you point out, we certainly don’t want to use chemicals that would undoubtedly end up in our river.

Perhaps an email to the D.E.C. from a concerned resident as yourself may prompt them to take action. You can email Heather Gierloff at:

In the meantime, I will speak to Tom at the D.P.W. to see about posting warning signs.

Thank you,
Bruce Tucker, Mayor
Village of Piermont, NY 10968
478 Piermont Ave.
Piermont, NY 10968
(845) 359-1258 x304

Native species??????? Wtf????? We are talking about poison ivy here, not the Western Underground Orchid, Pitcher Plant or Jellyfish Tree. But ok….I’ll contact Heather Gierloff. Public Health knows no governmental barriers, and in fact I was pretty excited about moving up from the government of Piermont to the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation. (Note: In my email below I get right to being a Public Health professional!)

Dear Ms. Gierloff:
I am a resident of Piermont and I certainly enjoy our beautiful Pier. For the past few summers I have been concerned about the rampant and encroaching poison ivy. It envelops many of the trees on the south side of the Pier and is hanging over the road; some of the ivy is so strong that it is producing berries. As we all know, contact with poison ivy does not just produce itchy skin, it can be deadly, entering the respiratory system. I am deeply concerned about visitors to our Pier who may not know how dangerous this plant is: children who may rub up against the trees, adults who may pick the leaves and possibly think the berries are edible. Recently on a walk I had to ask a couple to please not gather the leaves which they were picking along with some other flowers and plants.

As a Public Health professional, I certainly understand that we do not want to endanger our river and river life with herbicides or chemicals to remove the poison ivy, but i am asking the Department of Environmental Conservation to find a way to control it, cut it back or use organic solutions (I use vinegar and salt on my own property.) I have contacted the Mayor of Piermont also requesting signage at the entrance to the pier and at certain points along the way to inform visitors about the dangers of poison ivy and how to identify it.
I would very much appreciate your response and attention to this danger to ensure safety for residents of Piermont and our visitors.
Best wishes,
Karel R. Amaranth, MPH, MA

Ms. Gierloff responded:


Thank you for reaching out about the Poison Ivy issue.
I will be meeting with Bruce Tucker next week to look at the area and discuss options.

Have a good day

Heather Gierloff
Regional Marine Habitat Manager, DEC Regions 3 and 4
Manager, Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Norrie Point Environmental Center, 256 Norrie Point Way, P.O. Box 315, Staatsburg, NY 12580
P: (845) 889-4745 x118 | | | |

I didn’t exactly get to have a passionate 1854 John Snow at the London water well moment, in fact I wasn’t even invited to the meeting between Mayor Tucker and Heather. It was kind of anti-climactic; I was probably working at my office or home feeding the cats or weeding the garden or something relatively mundane when The Meeting took place and strategies impacting on the health and well-being of the residents of Piermont and our guests were being determined by powerful governmental officials.

But a week or so later, as I resumed my runs on the Pier, I noticed some brown, dry curled vines dangling from trees as I approached the Pier Road from the parking lot. And there, right there at the entrance to the Pier was a sign saying, CAUTION Poison Ivy and a labeled drawing of the three-leaf design. There were more signs arranged along the road, more dead and dying vines, as I later found out, doused with a solution of salt, vinegar and dish soap. I stopped and gazed out at the Hudson River and when I turned to continue my run, a woman approaching me said, “Well, they finally did something about the poison ivy.” I smiled and continued to run.


Grateful for our beautiful Pier

A White Woman of a Certain Age Driving a Volvo

My hands gripped the steering wheel, my eyes focused on the dark roadway ahead, I concentrated on the exact pressure my foot needed to exert to maintain my speed at the 35 mile an hour limit. My heart was pounding and I had to consciously breathe in and out, steady and slow. It was close to midnight on my way home from a friend’s house in northern New Jersey. As I had driven along the Harrington Park side of the reservoir, a car had pulled out from a side street behind me. The driver had been following me, about two car lengths behind my car, for approximately 5 miles. Yes, clearly I was being followed for what reason I didn’t know, especially since the car was police patrol car, and the driver was a police officer.

It had been an evening of pre-Christmas fun with my tennis buddies. We met in Bergenfield, New Jersey at my friends’ house at 5:00 PM, and two designated drivers drove us to Heidelberg restaurant on the upper eastside for totally gluttonous indulgence of schweine haxe, veal chops, and sauerbraten (good but never to compare with my mother’s.) Big 16 ounce glasses of weissbier. Then a decision to skip the strudel and drive down to Rocco’s in the West Village for cannoli, tiramisu, cheesecake, espressos and cappuccinos. We went back uptown for a lovely drive past the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Truly a night of friendship, laughter, over eating, and holiday cheer. Back in Bergenfield we all kissed and hugged, and wished each other “Merry Christmas!”

And so I began my drive home, a trip of 13 miles northeast, to Piermont, New York. I was listening to late night NPR, enjoying the thoughts of the friends I had been with, thinking about Christmas plans, singing along with “The Messiah.” When the police car pulled out of the side street, I was certainly a little more aware of my driving, checked the speed limit sign on the side of the road and held a steady 25 mph, which I must say is very slow, but why take a chance? I continued to sing along, but with a little less gusto on the “And he shall glorify!”

At the first main intersection, Livingston Street and Broadway I could have gone straight but decided to make a right turn and head east to Piermont Road. I pulled into the right lane and waited for the light to turn green, since it is a no right on red light. The police car pulled up next to me in the left lane indicating that he (yes, I could see that it was a male cop at the wheel,) would be going straight up Livingston. When the light changed I made my right and suddenly the police car pulled out of the left lane and followed me. I do believe making a right turn out of a left lane is against the law, but hey, he’s a cop. But then I realized, he was really following me. Driving along Livingston I became very aware of my driving, really aware. But then I noticed we were approaching a police station. Oh silly me, he’s just going back to the station. No, on past the station he continued to follow me, maintaining that just about two car lengths between my taillights and his headlights. At the intersection of Broadway and Piermont Road, I moved into the left lane to turn north; the speed limit changed to 35 MPH. Carefully looking both ways at the stop sign I made the left, and then out of the right lane, he turned left too, just about two car lengths behind me.

And this is when my hands started really gripping the steering wheel, I had stopped singing, and had pushed the volume button off, I was aware, very aware of my driving, my speed, the way I rounded each curve, exactly where I was in relation to the center line, the side line, and very aware that there were no other cars. Yes, it was after midnight on a Sunday night, but there were no other cars either in the oncoming lane or behind me, just the steady headlights two car lengths behind me.

I felt scared, trapped, pursued, and mostly I felt like I was being set up. This cop was just waiting for me to slightly veer over a line, to roll through a stop sign, accelerate just beyond the speed limit. I watched the headlights in my rear view mirror and envisioned that at any moment the blue and red strobe would kick on. And then I thought about the beer I drank. Sixteen cold golden ounces between about 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM, intermingled with sauerbraten, potato dumplings, red cabbage, lots of brown bread, and then the Rocco’s tiramisu and cappuccino. Never had I felt the least bit impaired beyond a slight buzz during dinner and that was more than 4 hours ago, and yet I had no idea of what my blood alcohol might be. Never being a careless drinker and driver, never having even gotten a speeding ticket, I had never calculated any of this.

So I could feel a panic setting in as I drove along quiet, dark, lovely wooded Piermont Road. Clearly, I was getting the pump of adrenalin associated with a stressful situation. The internal chemical reaction that has been with us since the dawn of human time to protect us with the fight or flight response.

Adrenalin: A hormone secreted by the adrenal medulla upon stimulation of the central nervous system in response to stress, as anger or fear, acting to increase heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac output, and carbohydrate metabolism. Fosters protective actions of fight or flight.

Yes, I was definitely getting an adrenalin rush.

Fight or Flight: Involving or relating to an involuntary response to stress in which the hormone adrenaline is secreted into the blood stream in readiness for physical action, such as fighting or running away.

Here are the specifics of how this works and the behaviors it causes from a site called Changing Minds:

When we perceive a significant threat to us, then our bodies get ready either for a fight to the death or a desperate flight from certain defeat by a clearly superior adversary.

Physical changes

Fight or flight effects include:

  • Our senses sharpening. Pupils dilate (open out) so we can see more clearly, even in darkness. Our hairs stand on end, making us more sensitive to our environment (and also making us appear larger, hopefully intimidating our opponent).
  • The cardio-vascular system leaping into action, with the heart pump rate going from one up to five gallons per minutes and our arteries constricting to maximize pressure around the system whilst the veins open out to ease return of blood to the heart.
  • The respiratory system joining in as the lungs, throat and nostrils open up and breathing speeding up to get more air in the system so the increased blood flow can be re-oxygenated. The blood carries oxygen to the muscles, allowing them to work harder. Deeper breathing also helps us to scream more loudly!
  • Fat from fatty cells and glucose from the liver being metabolized to create instant energy.
  • Blood vessels to the kidney and digestive system being constricted, effectively shutting down systems that are not essential. A part of this effect is reduction of saliva in the mouth. The bowels and bladder may also open out to reduce the need for other internal actions (this might also dissuade our attackers!).
  • Blood vessels to the skin being constricted reducing any potential blood loss. Sweat glands also open, providing an external cooling liquid to our over-worked system. (this makes the skin look pale and clammy).
  • Endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain killers, are released (when you are fighting, you do not want be bothered with pain–-that can be put off until later.)
  • The natural judgment system is also turned down and more primitive responses take over–this is a time for action rather than deep thought.

Modern effects

Unfortunately, we are historically too close to the original value of this primitive response for our systems to have evolved to a more appropriate use of it, and many of life’s stresses trigger this response. The surprises and shocks of modern living leave us in a permanent state of arousal that takes its toll on our bodies, as described by Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome.


A third alternative response which often comes before fight or flight is freezing. This is often used by prey as they seek not to be noticed by predators and is typified by the rabbit paralyzed by the headlights of an oncoming car.

Humans also will pause at signs of danger. By freezing, you also cut down on noise and visual change and so may hear or see things around you more clearly.

Freezing gives you time to assess the situation and, if necessary you may then take further action, including fighting or backing away.



Another automatic, unthinking reaction when faced with a sudden threat is to go into a ‘shield’ mode, for example cowering down and protecting the head by throwing arms over it. Turning away to use the back as a shield is also common.

When with a child or another person, the protection instinct may cause you to throw your body around them, pulling them in and literally becoming a ‘human shield’.


Beyond shielding or perhaps as an extension of it, we will even sacrifice ourselves to help others, for example where a soldier ‘takes the bullet’ for a colleague.

When people are praised for being heroes, a common response is to say that they ‘didn’t think about it’. In other words, it was an automatic reaction to help others, even at the potential cost of one’s own life. This willingness to sacrifice is an essential element of humanity and society, even if we never have to take this action.

If you get wound up yourself, stop. Get out. Use any excuse to go somewhere and calm down.


Flight or fight to the death. That’s what our medulla has been programmed for in our survival and the survival of those we love and care for, even complete strangers.

But let me take you back from primitive humanity to that night in my car as my heart started pounding, my hands were getting sweaty on the wheel and I had to work hard to keep my breath steady. And my sudden realization: If the red and blue lights began to strobe behind me and I had to pull over, fight or flight were the last things I would ever want to do when confronted by a police officer. Even “getting out, using any excuse to go somewhere and calm down” was not going to work. The response that has protected us as humans since prehistory was exactly what not to do. Read any of the recent news reports. Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, compelling statistics of police violence specifically targeted against black men. Fight or Flight in these circumstances is deadly.

I am a white woman of a certain age, driving a Volvo, adhering to the speed limit, with an extremely clean driving record. Why was I chosen to be followed? What was my profile? What is anyone’s “profile”?

This is not a rant against police. My own Piermont cops came to my aid when I was locked out of my house and on another occasion carried me from my driveway down 20 steps after my ankle surgery. I have worked with many police officers and detectives in victims’ services, and they are dedicated to risking their own lives to protect others. I also know that when stressed, their fight kicks in; fleeing is not an option.

Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League wrote in the Huffington Post:

That is why we march — because Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, John Crawford and others did not deserve to die; because Marlene Pinnock did not deserve to be viciously beaten and Levar Jones did not deserve to be shot for complying with a trooper’s request; because the excessive use of force — deadly force — by law enforcement against unarmed African Americans has no place in the land of the free and the home of the brave; because police should not fear the communities they have sworn to protect and communities should not fear those who serve to protect them; and because we — as a nation — must and can be better.

I never did have to contend with my fight or flight response that night. About 6 miles after the patrol car started following me, as I drove at 35 miles an hour on Piermont Road and I passed the big green “Welcome to New York, the Empire State” sign, the headlights suddenly disappeared as the officer at the wheel pulled a U-turn and drove back south. My heart rate calmed as I rounded the bend into Piermont and drove up my steep windy road home. But still I wondered why I had been followed. I continue to wonder about how we can all do better. I can’t pretend I know what it is like to be routinely profiled, followed, questioned, threatened, but I do know what a state of constant fight or flight does to a person’s nervous system, to the nervous system of a community, to a nation; a permanent state of arousal that takes its toll on our bodies, minds, hearts and souls, and costs lives when fight or flight is a death sentence. It’s in the research, it’s in the news every day. We must and can do better.

For me this was an isolated incident, but then I am a white woman of a certain age, driving a Volvo, adhering to the speed limit, with an extremely clean driving record.





A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”

It was not a beautiful day in the neighborhood.  The river swelled with rain, the high tide and the pull of the full moon which was obscured by the storm clouds. The wind blew houses apart, ripped out electrical wires, knocked down trees and set violent waves into motion.  On the streets of my little village, the storm left hundreds of people along the river and creek with water and mud in their basements, their living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens.  Some homes were missing entire walls. Docks were washed away.  Boats were in the streets and crushed into houses.  Without electricity the village was dark and people we had always welcomed as tourists became voyeurs to the devastation and some sadly came back under the cover of the darkness to take advantage of exposed boats and homes that still contained valuables.  We had a curfew in our little village.

As the days went on and communication was slowly restored we all became more and more aware of the assault on our larger neighborhood, other towns and villages where our family and friends live. Jersey City where two of my daughters live, Hoboken, the Jersey Shore with shocking pictures of homes washed out to sea and the roller coaster mangled and submerged.  Staten Island devastated; a woman walking around rubble where her house once was.  Battery Park under water and much of Manhattan at a standstill: a New York Moment became a long continuum of slow dark nights and days of daunting challenges of finding food, drinking water, housing and comfort.  There were deaths from falling trees, isolation, flooding.

Here in our little village we gathered last Thursday morning at the Village Hall for instructions, information and opportunities to help each other.  Our Mayor Chris Sanders said, “We didn’t lose anything of value; we lost stuff.  No one died.  We can replace the stuff but we can’t replace a life.”  “Life is far more than anything you can see or hear or touch.”  He didn’t say that, but it was the message in his message.

And the villagers joined together to help with the stuff.  Crews bulldozing the streets, neighbors helping neighbors pump water and clean sludge out of their homes, the Fire House serving as a temporary shelter.  I was fortunate.  I got to help just by doing something I love, cooking big pots of soup for people staying at the Fire House and the volunteers.  I also had the opportunity to just listen to some people who just needed to talk.   It was hard to listen knowing that I couldn’t fix anything that these women needed help with. I didn’t have answers, but I think there were people like Judy and Jackie and Helen and Sue who just needed someone to listen to their questions.  Like, “Can I ever go back to my house on the river?”  I thought of Atul Gawande’s book Better citing one of the five ways to change the world as listening.   I just tried to quiet myself down and truly listen.

There were all the public health issues of contaminated water and requirements of boiling drinking water, of wearing protective clothing in water that contained sewage and chemicals.  Concerns about food spoilage and gastrointestinal infections.   And the importance of safeguarding against stepping into water that had electrical wires concealed beneath the surface.  Although not too many homes in our village have garages I reminded people to not sit in a closed garage running their car to charge their cell phones.

In the midst of this I received an email from my daughter Kierra who had gotten information from my grandchildren’s Montessori School about what to tell kids about all the damage and devastation.  So often in the crisis and busyness of trying to cope and clean up and take care of and rebuild we forget that kids can’t understand what happened not just to them, but to others in the big neighborhood.  The email referenced a quote for parents, really any grown ups,to help children during a crisis in their own home, in the village, in the big neighborhood.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”  Fred Rogers

Those of us who are of a certain age and our children remember watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood which was on PBS for more than 30 years from 1968 to 2001.  It was in fact always a beautiful day in the neighborhood as Mr. Rogers slipped into his zip-up sweater and sneakers.  Although Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was a little cardboard town, he gave kids and all of us who watched the understanding of the big neighborhood and our responsibilities for each other.  He helped us all understand, “That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”   And helpers that put the neighborhood back together after a superstorm that devastated homes and businesses and people’s lives.

As I look at the newspapers and the TV reports, at the online pictures of the damage left by the violent winds and surging water, I keep looking for the helpers and I keep reminding everyone I know, big and little that there are always helpers.  I don’t mean this in any way to be flippant.  The damage is real in real neighborhoods, not the little 1960’s cardboard TV set.  Precious irreplaceable lives have been lost and it will take a long time and immeasurable resources to fix and repair and replace the stuff.   But the messages that Mr. Rogers left for us are real, too, and I believe that these messages help us as helpers and as those who need so very much to be helped.

The Marathoners ran to Staten Island with rakes and shovels and bottled water. My friend Linda Burnside in Winnipeg ran her own fund raising  “Run Anyway.”  On the news last night there was the report of a man from Texas who drove to Long Island with supplies and food.  There was a fund raising concert last Friday night with Sting and Springsteen and Christina Aguilera supporting the Red Cross.   Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congresswoman Nita Lowey came to our village.  The Salvation Army was here in Piermont, so were our DPW, Fire Fighters, Women’s Auxiliary, Police Force and our inspiring Mayor Chris Sanders.   The helpers are everywhere on this beautiful day in the neighborhood.  They are us.

(And by the way, “I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you, I have always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.”)

► 1:28

Fred Rogers > Quotes

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ”

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

“Forgiveness is a strange thing. It can sometimes be easier to forgive our enemies than our friends. It can be hardest of all to forgive people we love. Like all of life’s important coping skills, the ability to forgive and the capacity to let go of resentments most likely take root very early in our lives.”

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are. ”

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”

“Mutual caring relationships require kindness and patience, tolerance, optimism, joy in the other’s achievements, confidence in oneself, and the ability to give without undue thought of gain.”

“Love and trust, in the space between what’s said and what’s heard in our life, can make all the difference in the world. ”

“The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”

“Whether we’re a preschooler or a young teen, a graduating college senior or a retired person, we human beings all want to know that we’re acceptable, that our being alive somehow makes a difference in the lives of others.”

“Who we are in the present includes who we were in the past.”

“I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said “yes,” when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to someone else.”

“The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they’re doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they’re doing, and they love it in front of others.”

“We need to help people to discover the true meaning of love. Love is generally confused with dependence. Those of us who have grown in true love know that we can love only in proportion to our capacity for independence.”

“The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.”

“Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.”

“It’s very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It’s easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.”

“The connections we make in the course of a life–maybe that’s what heaven is.”

“Little by little we human beings are confronted with situations that give us more and more clues that we are not perfect. ”

“It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our very being is good stuff.”

“I’m proud of you for the times you came in second, or third, or fourth, but what you did was the best you have ever done”

“When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.”

“In the external scheme of things, shining moments are as brief as the twinkling of an eye, yet such twinklings are what eternity is made of — moments when we human beings can say “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” “I forgive you,” “I’m grateful for you.” That’s what eternity is made of: invisible imperishable good stuff.”

“At the center of the Universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything that we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision us to continue against all odds. Life is for service.”

“Whatever we choose to imagine can be as private as we want it to be. Nobody knows what you’re thinking or feeling unless you share it.”

“The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.”

“What’s been important in my understanding of myself and others is the fact that each one of us is so much more than any one thing. A sick child is much more than his or her sickness.
A person with a disability is much, much more than a handicap. A pediatrician is more than a medical doctor. You’re MUCH more than your job description or your age or your income or your output.”

“Peace means far more than the opposite of war.”

“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”

“There is no normal life that is free of pain. It’s the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth.”

“There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.”

“I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.” “Try your best to make goodness attractive. That’s one of the toughest assignments you’ll ever be given.”

“How great it is when we come to know that times of disappointment can be followed by joy; that guilt over falling short of our ideals can be replaced by pride in doing all that we can; and that anger can be channeled into creative achievements… and into dreams that we can make come true.”

“A young apprentice applied to a master carpenter for a job. The older man asked him, “Do you know your trade?” “Yes, sir!” the young man replied proudly. “Have you ever made a mistake?” the older man inquired. “No, sir!” the young man answered, feeling certain he would get the job. “Then there’s no way I’m going to hire you,” said the master carpenter, “because when you make one, you won’t know how to fix it.”

“I believe that appreciation is a holy thing–that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.”

“There was a story going around about the Special Olympics. For the hundred-yard dash, there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line and, at the sound of the gun, they took off. But one little boy didn’t get very far. He stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard the boy crying. They slowed down, turned around, and ran back to him–every one of them ran back to him. The little boy got up, and he and the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line.
They all finished the race at the same time. and when they did, everyone in the stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long, long time. And you know why? Because deep down we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.”

“It’s really easy to fall into the trap of believing that what we do is more important than what we are. Of course, it’s the opposite that’s true: What we are ultimately determines what we do!”

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…

It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…

I’ve always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we’re together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

Won’t you please,
Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor?”