Family, friends, home and business have come through the storm unscathed. My mood should be lighter; it’s time to get on with things. Yet I have a sense of loss, certainly not loss of innocence at my age, but of something similar. We have all experienced events in our lives that have taught us how transitory our sense of security really is, how random events outside our control can turn things upside down in an instant. I have a friend who says we are all “the walking wounded.” Yet when things roll along nicely for long periods, we forget those lessons. This week’s events in New Jersey and surrounding states are a harsh reminder.
Pictures and verbal descriptions of destruction and loss are everywhere, but certain ones seem to hit home more than others. This morning’s newspaper, which I squinted at as the sun rose and I savored my one cup of coffee from the local convenience store (yes, we have no electricity at home, but it seems a minor difficulty), showed our governor with his arm around a man who had lost both his dream retirement home and a rental property that was probably his source of income. His well-planned-out later years are now chaos. My thoughts were that at 30, 40, or even 50 people can recover and rebuild; there comes a time in life when one is running out of time.
An essay on CNN.com yesterday expressed the feelings that millions of us who grew up in places like New York or Philadelphia or their surrounding communities have about the Jersey Shore: we spent the summers of our childhoods and young adulthoods there, and the loss seems to be of memories as well as places. Like the author, I have seen beautiful beaches in Bermuda, the Bahamas, Antigua and other tropical islands, but there’s nothing like New Jersey. No, we don’t own summer homes there and often haven’t visited in years. I haven’t spent a vacation, outside of an occasional long autumn weekend in Cape May, at the Jersey Shore since my son was a child. But I encouraged him and his girlfriend, who is from the South of France, to spend some time there in September; they were visiting from London and wanted to go to North Carolina beaches. Instead, they traveled from the southernmost resort, Cape May, to Ocean City, to Atlantic City, to Asbury Park, and I’m certainly glad their pictures are of “before.”
Before our generator gave up the ghost on Tuesday, after weathering the storm, I saw on image on television that made what was happening to New York more real to me than any of the others. Again, it involved memories. Water was rushing along West 23rd Street; I turned to my husband and said, “Look, it’s The Half King!” While my husband attended seminary from 2001 to 2004, we were fortunate to have an apartment in the Chelsea area, and The Half King was one of our favorite local haunts. Many a late brunch on Sunday there! Our sojourn in New York began the first week in September in 2001, and following events were devastating, but that is a story for another time. We had not yet become attached to the city; now the damaged locales are very real to us and part of our lives.
I don’t mean to make it sound as if these emotional losses can in any way compare to the loss of life and destruction of homes and businesses that so many are suffering. The memories of and relationships with these places make the suffering of those who are bearing the brunt of the disaster more tangible. I felt bad for the people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Katrina; I donated and I prayed. But New Orleans is a faraway place. New Jersey is my home; New York was also, not so long ago. It’s my neighbors who are in need. I second Erin in soliciting your donations, particularly to the Red Cross, which has been my choice for giving. And as the fickle attention of the news media turns to other topics, particularly with the election next week, remember that the need for food, shelter, and rebuilding will last a lot longer.
At times like this, I try to keep gratitude in the forefront of my thinking; it keeps things in perspective. Besides the foremost, the safety of those I care for and the lack of damage to our home, here are a few things I’m grateful for:
GOOD NEIGHBORS: When our generator, which we have had for many years because power outages are not uncommon in our area, died the day after the storm, our first need was water; the well pump runs on electricity. We ran hoses between the outdoor faucets of our homes and are using the water of a neighbor (whose generator is working.) This neighbor refuses to take any of our stockpile of gasoline, which is in short supply, because after Hurricane Irene last year, it was extension cords, rather than hoses, running from his house to our generator. We’re all in this together.
INGENUITY: We actually do have a working generator. It produces 1 kilowatt of electricity, and is usually used for the weed-whacker and chain saw at the far reaches of our property. We are able to run exactly one household circuit from it. The one chosen controls the furnace, which fortunately is fueled by natural gas and only requires electricity for the starter and the fan. A bonus was finding out that the hot water heater is on the same circuit. Not just heat and water, but hot water!
NO RAIN: The small generator will never run our massive sump pumps, but Sandy brought little rain, mostly wind. And the weather has stayed gloomy but dry.
MIDWESTERNERS: Another generator is being shipped from Illinois and should arrive before the next predicted nor’easter midweek. The people there were very sympathetic, and were happy to expedite the packing and delivery. The way things go, the power will probably come on just before it arrives. But this isn’t the last storm, and when the old one is repaired, we will have a backup or one to share.
1. Power stayed on at my book shop, so business was only interrupted while streets were blocked by trees. Phone and Internet are also working.
2. The Newark Star-Ledger has continued to publish and DELIVER! Even when power was out in the entire city of Newark, they found a way to get the news to those of us lacking television and internet. They missed Tuesday, but Wednesday morning when I returned from the coffee run, I saw the familiar yellow bag in the newspaper box. I was sure that I had gotten the paper in on Monday, and couldn’t believe that one had been delivered. I had just taken a four-mile detour to get to town, and we are pretty remote in the best of times. Extra tip for the carrier this month, and kudos to the whole Star-Ledger staff; I love my printed word, and it was an extra comfort.
3. The “crazy” neighbor (other side from our helpful friends), who usually makes life miserable for everyone, had the tree which fell from his property onto our lawn removed already. We were just happy it didn’t hit the house, and thought it was now ours to deal with. How he got someone to do this job when most are prioritizing removing trees that are on homes, or blocking roads and driveways, is a mystery.
4. Phone service is also out, and although this means no Internet, it also means no political robocalls.
5. Defrosting the freezer in the basement and giving the refrigerator a major clean-out have been crossed off the “to-do” list.
The gratitude seems to have lightened my somber mood a bit. I still don’t see much that is humorous, but life will return to normal. The things that are gone will not be the same when rebuilt, but time and redevelopment have taken other places that remain only in our memories. And we go on.