Sunday, November 4, 2012

Back from Manhattan - and thank you, Penington Friends House

I was in Manhattan last week during Hurricane Sandy (to be precise, on 15th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in the Penington Friends House), and remained there for a couple of days afterward until LaGuardia was cleared out enough to get planes out.  We had it pretty easy: staying at a place where there were meals reliably prepared (in the old-time kitchen with a large gas-powered stove), and lots of candles lit in the evening.  I was relieved to find a small but unusually powerful flashlight, which I use when I walk my dog in the evening, had made its way to Manhattan with me in my coat pocket.  Our biggest privation was the loss of the Internet, which felt very constricting at the time.

I've spent some time since returning thinking about how woefully unprepared I am - perhaps all of us are - for the challenges that lie ahead with climate change, or even personal disasters that face us all.  I scramble to assert some sense of normalcy, as if it were something I have a right to, as if it ever really existed.  I indulge in small fetishes and magical thinking, like putting a daylight lamp on my table to push away the autumnal shadows and winter darkness that predictably propel me into seasonal sadness.  I hopefully struggle through the physical therapy regimen that promises to at least arrest the nerve disruption I'm experiencing from a bulging disk in my lower back.  My spouse surfs the Web looking for human-powered generators that could keep a cell phone or tablet going in the event of a power outage - if the disruption didn't also include towers going out (which they did where we were in NYC).

I am also struck by how this experience highlighted for me how oblivious I am most of the time, trudging through my days unaware of the choices that actually exist to use my limited time and energy in more fruitful ways, including not spending so much of it wired into the Internet.  When the lights and wifi went out, we were left in the dim room through the long nights acutely aware of sirens far and near, large trucks and machines seemingly involved in construction projects in the dark, and earlier, during the storm, wind whipping around the buildings for hours.  In the midst of all that racket was a kind of stillness, the stillness of nothing much to do, no control over the outcome, nowhere to escape to mentally or physically.

With few resources of our own, we experienced the kindness of friends and strangers throughout our visit, which made for a happy visit in spite of the disruption to everything around us - travel and jobs and the daily rhythm of life for everyone.  For a time, all we had, and all we needed, was candlelight and the good cheer of everyone in the household.  Oh - and some good board games (I held the flashlight while a group played Clue) and the silliness of young people making up raucous songs in the corner.