Monday October 29th 2012: it was a dark and stormy night…. no really, it was. Never before had an overly plagiarized line felt so apropos as I stared out my window with an odd mix of terror and fascination. Hurricane Sandy demanded my undivided attention like one of those bratty Toddlers & Tiaras kids in the throes of a full-blown temper tantrum. As much as I wanted to ignore her, I couldn’t silence the pandemonium by changing the channel because she was everywhere. My thoughts rarely strayed far from the tempest that surrounded me, but when they did all it took was a 90-mile an hour, house rattling, bitchslap from Sandy to remind me of my imminent doom….
I’m hungry, I think I’ll go make myself a sandwich.
Oh, that’s right I’ll probably be dead by morning.
I blame the media for my hysteria – why not? Everyone else does. They didn’t technically force me to watch two solid days of media coverage the weekend before Sandy’s tumultuous arrival, but they knew no one would have the ability to look away from the meteorological wreckage. After 48-hours of being told just how completely screwed everyone was in the northeast, I was in a panic before the first gust of wind hit Long Island.
Like the good sheep I am, I followed the herd to the grocery store and bought what remained of the bottled water and cans of soup. My house might flood or be blown away in a hurricane, but at least I would be well hydrated. Then I sent my husband out on a scavenger hunt for D-batteries and flashlights – he would’ve had an easier time getting laid in a convent. He wandered for hours, in and out of half a dozen stores before he found the only D-batteries left in New York. He called me as victoriously as he had several Christmases ago when he secured the last remaining Tickle Me Elmo doll in the toy store.
With my inner boy scout satiated with storm supplies, I was ready to face what lay ahead. When hurricane Sandy finally arrived, there was nothing left to do but hunker down inside our house, watch more terrifying news on TV, and wait to see what the fates had in store for us….
Would our house be swept out to sea like so many others had been along the eastern seaboard? Or would we be spared the ocean’s wrath and merely flooded with several feet of rainwater and sewage? Would the 100-foot tall pine tree in our backyard succumb to the punishing winds and crush our house the way so many other trees had done on Long Island? Would we lose power and freeze to death in the temperatures that threatened to plummet during the course of following week? I felt like we were playing the weather channel’s version of Russian roulette.
As it turned out, there was another option I hadn’t considered – we would win the hurricane lottery and escape the storm entirely unscathed. Sure, I could complain about all the twigs and leaves scattered around my yard, but that seems a bit petty.
I was awash in feelings of gratitude and relief. But when I took a step outside my mile-wide protective bubble, I realized that the people around me had fallen victim to all my worst fears. Almost 1 million Long Islanders were without electricity, many of whom also had severe property damage and flooding to complete the hellish trifecta. My original feeling of gratitude over not being effected by the storm quickly morphed into survivor’s guilt when the horror stories started to flood the media – first panic, now guilt. Thanks, you multi-media bastards.
The guilt multiplied whenever I spotted my storm supplies piled up in the corner of my kitchen, now unnecessary and unopened. They had to go. My husband and I decided to load up our minivan with all the supplies and donate them to the American Red Cross. But rather than feeling like I had helped the victims of hurricane Sandy, I felt more like I had tried to mend a mortal flesh wound with a Hello Kitty band-aid.
I turned to Facebook and offered up my house to anyone who needed to recharge their batteries, both figurative and literal. I begged friends who had been hit by the storm to allow me to help with their clean-up efforts because I needed something to do, other than pick my cuticles bloody and torture myself with the nightly news. No takers.
In hindsight I should have told my friends that I didn’t care whether or not they wanted my help, they were going to get it. I should have showed up on their doorstep with a garbage bag in one hand and a bottle of tequila in the other – I thought Cuervo Gold would be particularly good at numbing the pain. Always worked for me.
But I didn’t do any of that…. and I guess I’ll have to live with that regret now.
Lucky for me, there was plenty of time to contemplate my inadequacies while waiting on hour-long gas lines, and during my search for a gallon of milk that hadn’t spoiled during the power outages. As twisted as it sounds, these petty annoyances actually made me feel better. Maybe because I felt like I deserved it – you can take the Catholic girl out of the church, but you can’t take the guilt out of the Catholic girl. Or maybe because I knew I’d have a really cool story to bore my grandkids with forty years from now. Although when I retell the story, the gas lines will be two-hours long and I’ll be walking uphill through a snowstorm for my gallon of spoiled milk.
No matter how many inconveniences I encountered, I never quite purged all of my survivor’s guilt. The loss of those who suffered through the worst of the hurricane’s wrath became the barometer by which all other hardships were measured. I didn’t allow for any complaints from anyone in my household in the weeks that followed. When I found myself curled up in the fetal position on my couch, suffering from a particularly unforgiving bout of cramps, I silently said a word of thanks that I still had a couch to curl up on…. though I might have waited until the Advil kicked in first. When my kids complained about what I served up for dinner, I was quick to point out all the people who would go without dinner that night because of the storm. My kids might not have been as grateful about their broccoli as I was about my couch, but at least they stopped bitching about it.
Thankfully for the victims of hurricane Sandy, there were many other people who did more than sit on their ass being grateful for what they still had. Amidst the dismal scenes of destruction on the news, came stories about amazing heroes. There weren’t any capes flying or muscle-clad men leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but these heroes were no less awe-inspiring.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of real people put their lives on the line to save others – and some of those being saved weren’t even human. A 26-year old man named Spencer Service walked almost two miles during hurricane Sandy in order to save a litter of kittens. Check out this kitty hero! I love kittens as much as the next guy… well, maybe not as much as Spencer…. but I don’t know if I’d be willing to risk my life to save one.
Another one of my favorite hero stories was about a group of runners who got together and decided to help the victims of hurricane Sandy. Over 1,000 athletes who were scheduled to compete in this year’s NYC marathon (before it was cancelled) found a way to put all their hard work and training to good use. Instead of running in the race, they strapped on backpacks and ran food and supplies into devastated areas on Staten Island. Read about the race to help so you can feel amazed… and maybe a little lazy .
Awesome, right? I can barely jog twenty minutes on my treadmill without needing defibrillator paddles, and these people not only ran for miles through flooded, storm-ravaged streets, they did it with a backpack full of stuff. Makes complaining about carrying grocery bags from my car to my house seem a bit silly now.
I’m proud to say I know one of these powerhouses personally – my good friend, Desi. She’s the pint-sized dynamo wearing red in the middle of this picture….
In true heroic style, she made me promise that if I told her story, I would also include a link that my readers could click on to help those who were affected by the storm. Promise fulfilled – RunnersForRelief. I know you’re jealous that I have such an incredible friend, but you can’t have her because I need someone around that I can live vicariously through. Get your own hero.
These stories and the dozens of others just like it have given me hope that New York, through the sheer determination and resilience of its everyday heroes, will manage to rise up from the ashes once again. If I’ve learned anything about my hometown in the last decade it’s this – what New York lacks in affordable housing, good manners and sensible drivers, we more than make up for in heart.