01 November 2012

Naming Heartbreak

I spent much of the past weekend as many people on the East Coast did: battening down hatches, moving every piece of garden paraphernalia into the shed, tying arbors and pergolas down so they wouldn't sail off into the wild blue yonder as projectiles, climbing ladders and emptying gutters of leaves against the predicted heavy rains, emptying the rain barrel and readying it for a deluge.

Indoors I had to make sure I had the necessary supplies for what could potentially be a weeklong incarceration, sans lights, television, telephone, and stove.  As I was charging my cell phone, I pondered what sort of vat of something-or-other I should prepare to keep on hand to keep body and soul together.  Soup?  Stew?  Casserole?  Fritata? Quiche?  In my infinite wisdom I finally settled on Apple Crisp.  Perhaps not the most practical or gastronomically nutritious choice, but typical of my whimsical approach to "food I would like to be stranded with in a power failure".

There are numerous candles around the house, so having some kind of light wasn't an issue. And a friend had recently dropped off a huge shopping bag of cast-off magazines which, in addition to the two books I'm currently reading, would certainly keep me occupied.  (If not a little blind given that candles aren't the best light by which to read.)

As it turned out, the electricity wavered once but never went off. There was quite a bit of rain for two days although it was more of a constant splattering and never very heavy. Temperatures remained at 60 degrees throughout the storm, combined with a sticky humidity that made it seem more like August than October. And while the winds were ferocious on Sunday afternoon, they were eerily mild with only the occasional gusts throughout that night and on into Monday.

All in all, a merciful consolation to see the sunlight on Tuesday afternoon compared to what I'd anticipated.  And a jarring counterpoint to the horror I watched unfold on television for three days.

© Washington Post
The devastation that occurred in New Jersey and New York throughout the hurricane's journey over sea and land was heart-rending to watch in real-time. And each hour it seemed to go from bad to worse until it reached nearly biblical proportions.  Rain and flooding that combined with rising tides to engulf the lower East Side, the subway system, most of Long Island, and the entire Jersey Shore.  Devastating winds that uprooted trees, turned tree limbs into weapons and moved houses off their foundations. Imploding transformers that generated wild fires and levelled an entire community, destroying a neighborhood and its residents' belongings in a night-long inferno.

And then on Tuesday, I watched as the dark side of humanity revealed itself.  People whining and complaining that they had to walk to and from work and cross bridges on foot because the transit system was so crippled. At least you have homes to go to, I thought to myself, watching as those who once lived barely 8 miles away wandered in a daze, looking over the rubble they used to call home.  And there were the petty fights that broke out at bus stops as people pushed and shoved to get on board, when they should be thankful they hadn't lost the entire contents of their lives in wind, fire or flood.

Through it all, of course, the news and weather channels vied with one another to come up with the flashiest and most dramatic masthead.  Frankenstorm. Superstorm. Sandy's Wrath.  Super Sandy. Anatomy of a Superstorm. But how do you put a name on the heartache this force of nature has caused?  And should you even try?  It's impossible to capture within the confines of a pithy commercial title the true horror that has descended on these lives.

People laugh at New Englanders for being so twitchy when a hurricane or blizzard is forecast.  We make our requisite trips to the store for "milk and bread" and fill our bathtubs with water. And then we laugh at ourselves when the storm comes and goes, feeling a bit silly for having been so nervous, and glad that we dodged another meteorological bullet.  But sometimes the slug hits home.  It certainly found its target in New York and New Jersey.  And no amount of preparation can truly stop nature from wielding her heavy hand against you.

I admit that I felt terribly guilty looking out the window into the sunlight on Tuesday while yards away on the television there was so much suffering.  I felt guilty for being able to reach for a light switch or the knob on the stove and get immediate light and heat, knowing that people were surrounded by raw sewage, standing water, and darkness.  And I felt guilty that with Halloween only a day away I was concerned whether I had enough candy on hand, when so many people had few if any belongings left.

I am keeping everyone who sustained damage, heartbreak, and loss in my thoughts and prayers.  And to me, the only 'name' for what they've experienced is unfair


  1. Your thoughts and feelings about this latest devastation across the US/Canadian eastern coast (and places before it) are timely in so many ways. We tend to take advantage of so many things we simply consider 'automatic', a given. I share your sensitivity in such matters and only hope that we can learn from tragedy, once again.

    Thanks for stopping by today.

    Have a nice weekend.


  2. Thank you for your kind words, Poppy. Events like this are an opportunity, I think, for us to learn who we are and what's important to us. And of course it's always a chance to be kinder to people, especially strangers. Take care and have a lovely weekend.

  3. I certainly understand your complex feelings about the whole thing. I'm glad you were spared.

  4. Thank you, Jacqueline. And now a Nor'Easter has battered them with snow, icy rain, and winds that knocked out the power only recently restored. It really is so tragic.