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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Eye of The Beholder

I spent Hurricane Sandy largely cut off from the outside world. From our perch near the ocean in southern Maine, we were touched by the storm but not tormented by it. We did, however, lose connectivity. Our cable was out, our Internet down, our phone lines cut.

For 24 hours I knew that havoc was being wreaked to our south, in cities where my husband and I had once lived and cities where friends and family still lived. One of my sisters texted from downtown Manhattan, including a picture of a neighboring apartment building whose entire facade was torn off by the wind. Another sister waited - and still waits - with her in-laws to figure out the full extent of damage to their summer retreat on the Jersey Shore.

At 9:15 last night, our cable box came back to life. I immediately turned to the news and watched in numbed sadness as the images came at me. Hoboken, NJ, where my husband and I lived our first year out of law school: totally submerged in water, with 20,000 residents trapped in their homes. The neighborhood in Queens flattened by fire. The seaside delights washed into or away from the ocean that had previously been their greatest benefactor.

The interviews with and the pictures of the men and women, old and young, looking out at the new reality that now replaces the memory of what once was.

I crawled back through my Twitter feed and saw messages of good luck, good cheer, good God what is happening.

And I saw messages saying, "Hey, since you're stuck inside, why not watch the new episode of my show! Or buy my book! Or check out my new tour dates!" Perhaps these were meant to be funny, seeing as they were directed at people with no power and much more pressing concerns than where to find the link to your Kindle download?

But I don't want to dwell on the off-putting, and I don't want to suss out the administrative failures or the media hysterics.

I am too busy thinking about being lucky.

Like beauty, I think "luck," or feeling "lucky," is often in the eye of the beholder.

I will admit that, at certain moments over the course of my 24 hours of isolation, I felt things other than lucky, or it's close cousin, grateful.

Sometimes I felt plain scared. Strong wind scares me - always has - and so does not knowing. I did not like not having clear answers to what was going to happen, how bad it was going to be, and when it was going to end. For me, and for everyone in the storm's path.

Sometimes I felt annoyed. I didn't like losing the conveniences of Internet access and cable news. I didn't like that I had to monitor my phone battery in case the power went out for a long stretch. I didn't like being thrown off our routine with my daughter's school being canceled.

Then I felt ashamed. Even though I couldn't see the pictures or hear the news from New Jersey and New York and Connecticut, I knew that what I was experiencing was nothing, in the grand scheme of things generally and in the grand scheme of Sandy specifically. Buck up, grow up, shut up, I told myself.

Then I turned on the television last night and saw families who had lost everything but the cement foundation of their home grit through their tears and say how lucky they felt because they were physically unharmed. I heard Newark mayor Cory Booker profess the luck of his city, even as the camera panned over devastated streets that reportedly smell of raw sewage, because power was being restored. I saw a mother who was shuttled down 8 dark flights of hospital stairs while she was in labor exclaim at how lucky she was to have a healthy newborn in her arms.

And I had spent that time complaining about not being able to check email?

It is an unfortunate but perhaps natural fact that we don't appreciate what we've got until it's gone or until we're reminded by an extremity that what we do have ain't all that bad.

It should not take a tragedy to remind me that I am lucky that the only fear I had to assuage in my daughter was the sound of our creaking house, and not the sight of our house burning to the ground. It should not take a tragedy to remind me that an inconvenience is nothing compared to an inundation. It should not take a tragedy to remind me that a stretch of electricity cables being downed is far preferable to an entire shoreline or a line of subways being drowned.

I am humbled to say that it did.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo insists that his state has to see this storm as not just a devastation, but also as an opportunity. An opportunity to rebuild the affected parts of the city in better, stronger, smarter ways. It is that kind of resilience, just as much as any other attraction or trait, that makes New York City a hallmark of our country: honor what was lost by finding what can be better.

On a laughably smaller scale, in the much more trivial jurisdiction of my life, I am going to take New York's lead, and the lead of the Jersey Shore and the Connecticut coast. I didn't lose anything from Sandy other than some points off my moral character. But I have been given an opportunity to improve myself, and I will take it.

I will work harder at training my eye to find the luck and to feel the lucky. I will address the bad but behold the good. I will still analyze and criticize and snark-icize, but then I will hope.

I hope you and yours are safe and dry.
I hope you can get where you need to go.
I hope if you have to rebuild, you can.
I hope you have hope.

Image courtesy of Huffington Post


  1. Marathon or no marathon?? What do you think?

  2. I too feel fortunate and grateful.

    The only way this would have made sense is if it was Hurricane Snookie.