Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What I Learned from a Girl Named Sandy

   I just got my power on after living in darkness and cold for 3 days. As Hurricane Sandy whipped and churned towards the shores of Long Island, I geared up for the fight, buying the last set of flashlights at Home Depot (they shine green and red!) gassing up the car,securing my deck chairs, and bringing in my chimes. I joined hundreds of others, buying snack food and wine, some with worried looks, others telling the cashiers their doubts about the storm being that bad. I even froze bags of water just in case I lost power.  I was prepared for the worst.

   The storm roared through my back yard, trees doing a hula dance. My miniature poodle, cowered in the corner of the living room, finally finding comfort on a pile of clothes in my closet. I remember clenching my teeth for a good 24 hours of so, even though I had power. I was alone in the house and I was nervous. Listening to T.V. news intensified my anxiety, so I changed the channel and watched The Horse Whisperer with Robert Redford...good movie! At around 10 pm, as I heard the winds die down, I decided to venture in my backyard to survey the scene

  There was 1 tree split in half, one trunk hanging over my neighbors fence, the other with the hammock rope tied to it still upright. Another huge tree uprooted hung precariously over the neighbor's fence, caught by another tree and one more cherry tree of my other neighbor's down in my yard. But at least I had not lost my power! I went to bed thinking I had weathered the storm pretty well, only to wake up to darkness.  The power had gone out at 3 am. Then began the darkness and cold.

   The days were tolerable, as I spent my time out of the house at the gym or walking the dogs. I toured my neighborhood, trees down and leaning on power lines, impassable roads due to non-working streetlights and silent shopping centers.  The nights, eerily quiet and foreboding were a different story. I navigated around the house, using candles and flashlights, and made sure I didn't open the fridge too much to preserve the packed ice bags that could save my food. with no power, I had no stove, hot water or heat. I started eating stuff out of the fridge. I created hodge-podges of meals - cold turkey meatloaf, tofu, hard-boiled eggs, eating anything I thought would spoil.

   Bored, I turned the radio station from the incessantly depressing news to music and found myself dancing in the kitchen to keep warm. I tried unsuccessfully reading by flashlight, in between spurts of sitting in the car  to charge my cell phone. The nights started getting colder, plummeting into the 40's and I began layering and adding blankets in bed. The heat of the dogs did not help. I'd wake up, frigid, with head throbbing from the cold. It was warmer outside, so I went outside one morning and stood with my face towards the sun, warming my body. It was heavenly.

    Finally after 3 days of this, I caved, and resignedly starting throwing my room temperature fridge food and thawing freezer food out in several garbage bags. I was busy packing to stay at a friend's who had a fireplace and camp out there for a few days, when I saw an unfamiliar sight-lights! Power back on, thankfully after three days, what a delightful surprise.

   I was able to look back on this experience more clearly and made these observations.  There are two different categories of people.  Those who care about others and are willing to help, like the ones that have generators and make coffee for the block and offer their homes for hot showers. Or the ones who own chainsaws and help cut down your fallen trees.  And then there are those who just take care of their own needs in times of trouble, for whatever their reasons are. But that's o.k., not everyone can be a saint. My local World Gym opened up the club to the community for those needing showers. My friend offered her home to me and my dogs to sleep in, even though she had no power, just a fireplace. So, thank you to all my friends who saw my status on facebook and offered me hot showers and places to power up.

    I also realized that going through a storm alone is not a lot of fun and neither is being in the cold and dark with pretty aromatic candles. So not romantic. Another discovery, the wine remained untouched. Anxiety does not work well with alcohol. I felt I needed to be on guard in case of emergency. I'd celebrate when it's over.

   I also learned how much we take the basics like light and heat for granted until we are without. And my dependence on creature comforts, like T.V., computers and cell phone, borders on shameful.

   This storm taught me a lot about the good and the bad of human nature and also about myself. It made me stop and think that I never want to be in this situation again and what steps I need to take to necessitate change.

   I also discovered when I finally had T.V. and a computer, about the devastation and destruction that existed over the tri-state area and felt ashamed that I complained about the cold. The boardwalk where I spent so many glorious summers in Far Rockaway is no more.  The restaurants I frequented in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, were consumed by the storm surge.

(Photo courtesy of Nathan Kensinger )

  There are so many suffering from the aftermath of the storm, whose homes were lost or flooded and so many are still without power. I hope relief comes quickly and that they are offered helping hands that carry them to safety and warmth and offer assistance.

If you'd like to help, here is a link: There are also many facebook pages devoted to Sandy relief for those who wish to volunteer.