“Through Earthquake, Wind and Fire, the Still Small Voice of Calm”
The first thing that happened this morning at 7 a.m. was that my seven year old neighbor, Zoe, ran out to visit me in my car, where I was charging my cell phone with my car charger and getting what news I could off the radio. Zoe said, “Let’s go to Stuy Town and see my friend. Her car was floating last night.” Zoe thought this w
Before I could post this, by driving to my daughter’s in Brookyn, where she has email, I drove through and past Stuy Town. The FDR was closed, dozens of cars had trees on top of them, much of the river’s throw-up remains on the street. There are no traffic lights downtown, a unique courtesy on the road, and long lines outside the few open Bodegas. Pedestrians abound. I may also visit my grandchildren in Brooklyn, one of whom is three and announced on facetime this morning, “Bube, I can’t be a good boy any more.” To say that this storm has been long anticipated is to misunderstand what it’s been like Friday through Monday night. I can’t be a good girl any longer either and thus drove across the bridge the second it opened.
My mother called. She had clearly been watching too much television. We posted on the church site where the pastors would be, how to reach us and how ill advised it would be for people to come to us. Two nurse friends of ours moved in, early, to our apartment because they thought they would be pulling double shifts at NYU Hospital up the street. They brought their partners. They live in Brooklyn and couldn’t walk in on subways that had closed or bridges and tunnels that closed right after. “No man is an island,” they like to say, but right now Manhattan is more than an island than imaginable, 24 hours earlier. The NYU Hospital generator failed so they were sent home, and all the patients moved to another hospital. They had tested the generator on Friday and it was working then.
At the height of the storm, we had to take a walk. Three of us made it arm and arm in a four-block circumnavigation; two of us made the full eight blocks. The streets were vigorous. The avenues strenuous. The W hotel lobby was jam packed with people aggressively using their cellphones. Our partner who left us was standing in the foyer, praying for our safe return.
Now we pray for a few more things. First, can we find a way to live without power? Of the electrical kind? Second, what will happen with this many people being without goods or services? We already know to walk the avenues, not the streets, from now on, due to the inevitable need for people to pick pockets and steal from each other. How will we ever mourn the loss of the New Jersey Shore line? Is the Atlantic City Boardwalk really no longer with us? What will happen to the subways? Who was thinking about infrastructure anyway? How much of it is gone, as in gone, I mean gone? What will happen next October? Last October it snowed. This October, the East River moved to First Avenue. What will we tell the children about the floating cars? Is there really an environmental and economic opportunity in a crisis as inconvenient and comprehensive as this one? Maybe now we can think about nature and the economy in new ways. Imagine being grateful for Sandy!
The pleasures are as large as the worries. My next-door neighbors on both sides agreed to help bail, if we needed bailing. My upstairs neighbor came down to ask what she could do. One of the nurses brought a chicken. Amid things crashing and trees touching their toes in the street, there is an odd “I told you so”, a validation of the midnight thoughts of both heart and mind. Nature always trumps technology. And electrical power. And political power. That great sense that we are living wrong, too addicted to plugging in, too soft, too dependent on the wrong things or at least undependable things, has increased. Maybe after the storm is cleaned up, we will do more than buy generators or better flashlights. Maybe we will bridge and tunnel our way to deeper connection with each other and with what power really is. For now, these questions are too large. The smell in the street is increasing, as the sewers back up. People wonder whether to drink what water there is coming out of faucets. There is an odd and full freedom in these moments. I have the cleanest Tupperware drawer in Manhattan. My sock drawer is sorted, and I have matched last year’s orphaned gloves with each other. Later, I will sweep the street and kiss the trees that didn’t fall and go to my friend’s house, where she has power