Just when you think that the rest of the country was finally starting to wise up about pigeon-holing Western New York (WNY) as the armpit of the east, the ignorant hecklers gleefully pile on when the region gets hit with a catastrophic snow storm. This past week, the people of WNY experienced the worst natural disaster in the region since the infamous “Blizzard of ’77”.
Didn’t think I’d live long enough to see anything worse in WNY than those surreal nine days nearly 38 years ago. Unfortunately, this “Winter Storm Knife” is like a slow moving train wreck as residents must now face imminent flooding in low lying areas. That will bring another whole set of challenges.
As I write this post, thirteen lives were lost since the beginning of the storm. Disabled and elderly people have been stranded for days without food and critical medication. When the true measure of this storm is eventually analyzed, once again the true grit of WNYers will show its face to the rest of the nation.
Having gone through the Blizzard of ’77 as a young oncology nurse at Roswell Park, this storm triggered a mountain of memories of those 16 hour shifts for nine days straight. From sleeping on the floor of a clinic, to bartering units of blood with the staff at Buffalo General Hospital, those nine days came back into my mind as if it were last week.
Like many other native WNYers that live in far flung places, I spent as much free time as I could this week tuning in to social media and news outlets for updates on the status of the storm. What I saw was actually a bit disturbing at times. If the media reflects the ethos and values of any given community, we are in worse shape as a nation than I hoped I would ever live long enough to see.
Look, anyone that grew up in WNY has hid like a rhinoceros when it comes to being ridiculed about living in a rust belt city with two ‘loser’ sports franchises. We personify what it means to be collectively bullied by the rest of the nation. It’s part of what led us to develop a type of toughness not seen in people from many other places.
We are the children of proud and adventurous people who settled in the region when it was considered a ‘western outpost’. Buffalo is not Phoenix, where the influx of new people have changed the entire culture of the region. The people of WNY are still mainly descendants of the original mass immigration of the mid-1800s and early 1900s.
Our character has been scarred by decades of abuse from those who cackle at us like hyenas disparaging our city, our weather, and most of all our people. Sadly, it’s even worse this time around than during the Blizzard of ’77.
The outside media reflected the brazen disregard for the seriousness of a catastrophic event in WNY several times this week. As the storm began to unfold, this tweet came across my timeline on Twitter from the official Oakland Raiders twitter feed:
— OAKLAND RAIDERS (@RAIDERS) November 19, 2014
The first thing that hit me was wondering if the Raiders organization wrote a similar tweet to the Saints during Hurricane Katrina? For some reason, it appears that snow is the Rodney Dangerfield of natural disasters. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes; no problem with showing some respect. Snow, not so much.
We already know that the rest of the nation hates us. We remember what it was like when the Bills went to the Super Bowl four years in a row. “Oh no, not THEM again.”. Losing all of them provided powerful ammunition in attacking the self-esteem of an entire region.
This time around, even the media in Detroit (of all places) decided to take cheap shots at WNYers borrowing their stadium for a football game. A sports radio station in Detroit (that shall remain nameless) created a campaign to punish Bills fans because their feelings were hurt by the coach they FIRED being carried off the field after losing to the Bills earlier this season. Really?
The people of Detroit know a thing or three about suffering. Like Buffalo, their city and football team are trying to rebuild after decades of decline. That’s why Bills fans traveling to Detroit to see the game would do well to separate their media clowns from a sister city in need of some respect.
I’ve always cherished the belief that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s served me and countless others well throughout life. These times are no different. Instead of allowing myself react to the negativity spewed about my homeland, I will use this show of disrespect as a means of motivation. But, motivation for what?
Professional athletes understand this principle better than anyone. Thurman Thomas created a sense of disrespect inside his mind that propelled him throughout his professional career as a football player. Feeling disrespected can be used as a powerful tool to push your way through many adversities in life.
So instead of Bills fans reacting in anger toward those trying to taunt us, think again. The most effective way to deal with a bully is to stop creating a victim mentality about it. By that I mean that instead of allowing foolish people to affect your state of mind, use that disrespect the way Thurman used being drafted in the second round. Shut your pie hole and play like your hair is on fire.
Understand the incredible gift that ignorant people serve up free of charge as motivation on a regular basis. My grandmother used to say that when you kill off your enemies with kindness, they lose any weapon they had against you. They become impotent because that which empowered them in the first place no longer accomplishes their goal to emotionally take you down.
So BillsMafia, let’s stand together and show the rest of the world why we are a unique community. You can already see the effect this natural disaster has had on Bills players. They got to experience arguably the worst storm in the history of Western New York. They will remember this forever and share these memories with others.
This epic snowstorm can be the catalyst that forges an even deeper connection between the Bills/Sabres players and the WNY community. The players got to experience cabin fever, and we were delighted as fans with every instagram video. Just like the players can use this experience as motivation on the field, we can also do so as fans.
Instead of getting snarky in Detroit, let’s show the rest of the world that we hold ourselves to a higher standard as a fan base. If you are traveling to Detroit to see the game, be courteous in the face of disrespectful behavior displayed for the sole purpose of bullying. Don’t give the haters outside WNY what they want. We can either rise above them or keep letting the rest of the nation control the dialogue about our great community.
And last, but definitely not least, a side note:
As a blizzard survivor and oncology nurse that worked through the Blizzard of ’77, I know how important it is to have enough blood supply during a natural disaster. We were forced to decide who would get the limited supply available at that time.
The Buffalo hospitals need blood to save lives. This was tweeted out two days ago and I’m pretty sure it’s still a need:
Urgent! @roswellpark donor center in need of platelet and type O- blood donations. Please call 716-845-8275 or visit http://goo.gl/Q95QGD
If you or a loved one can donate blood, you will literally be giving the gift of life. If you can’t get to Roswell Park, check with any hospital in your area about donating blood. Someday it might be your life that gets saved. Thanks and GO BILLS!