Like me, I know the people affected by Hurricane Sandy have been in your thoughts the past week. I live in Brooklyn and, except for some downed trees, my neighborhood (above) was mostly unaffected. But there is devastation all around us for those who are still without power and heat to those whose homes are uninhabitable and who have lost so many of their material belongings. A friend who grew up in the devastated Rockaways section of Queens and whose parents' home was severely flooded posted a photograph of his wife and two young children on Facebook recently with the caption "What is really important."
It would be impossible to be in this area at this time and not be affected by the storm in some way. There is heartache for those who lost loved ones and anguish for those who lost their homes. It certainly renews your perspective on "place" - your home and community. My thoughts this past week have ranged from the practical to the reflective.
The Importance of Community
Watching my neighbors and community mobilize to deliver food, water, flashlights, blankets and other necessities to the hardest hit neighborhoods of New York and New Jersey has been heartening and inspiring. Others have volunteered their time to do physical cleanup of homes and businesses or opened their homes to others for showers, and rest. I grew up in a small town where we really knew our neighbors - they were some of our best friends. We celebrated together and helped each other every day in big and small ways. From sharing lawn mowers to watching each other's children to leaning on each other in times of loss.
I've lived in New York City for 17 years and it is harder to access or create these communities, especially if you tend to move neighborhoods every few years. But these communities are here and they are strong. It didn't really occur to me that my parents forged those community relationships that I so benefitted from as a child - I took them for granted. Now, as a parent, it's my turn to plug into my community - to be informed, to meet people, to help others. The storm and its aftermath has brought this into sharper focus. As wonderful as it is to see my city and its varied communities pull together in times of need like this, it's a reminder that I'm part of this community every day.
Meaningful Family Time
My son's school was closed last week and we were mostly homebound. We did not lose power so, yes, there was tv to watch (mostly the news) and we spent time online (again, mostly the news), but we also played nearly every board game we own, did a mountain of puzzles, and, when we felt particularly antsy, had dance parties. Sure, we play with our son plenty, but we should do it even more. When you are forced to slow down you realize how good that time feels.
There are things you can't prepare for. And even when you think you've prepared, nature may have something else (and worse) in store. Depending on where you live you will be faced with different risks and challenges (hurricanes, snow, earthquakes, etc.) and while there will always be uncertainty, there are also so many ways you can and need to prepare both before a predicted event and for something very unexpected. Last year Hurricane Irene brought suffering to many parts of the world, but despite the hype and warnings, did minimal damage to my area. My bathtub was filled with water, I had two weeks' worth of food, and my backyard grill was chained to the house. We braced ourselves and then not much happened. It's tempting to become complacent but I have to fight that urge. I give myself a "C" grade for Sandy preparation. I stocked up on food, withdrew a wad of cash, set aside many pitchers of drinking water, gathered batteries and candles and tested our handcrank radio/flashlight. All good things to do, but if I'd had to leave my home with little or no notice, I would not have been prepared with important documents, a "go bag", or a plan for our two cats.
Stuff is Just Stuff. But Some Of It Is Important.
We strive to make our homes beautiful and comfortable and this is a good thing. But a sofa is just a sofa. Not to minimize the stress and anguish of losing a home and ones belongings - the financial and emotional recovery is long and painful. But you can bet that there isn't one person with a waterlogged sofa on the street right now who wouldn't trade it for a box of family photographs, letters and keepsakes they've lost.
It's worth thinking about - what in your home is truly important to you? Is there anything you can do now to preserve them, even if just in digital form? We talk here often about getting your photos out of your camera and onto your walls, but at no other time in history have we been able to preserve our memories and photographs so easily in digital form and in "the cloud." Nothing is foolproof, but there are steps you can take to protect some of these things and it is worth doing.
"What Is Really Important"
Our loved ones are what is really important, as my friend reminded me. Their safety and well being is what we are most thankful for. Homes are important too. Homes are where we anchor our lives and losing yours is unmooring.
I hope you are safe and well. If you'd like to help with Sandy recovery efforts, we've listed some organizations who are doing this work right now here.
(Images: Carrie McBride)