There is no telling how long the pain and suffering from Hurricane Sandy will last. I heard on the radio this morning that the cost of this hurricane would be around $50 billion, and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has just pledged $100 million to help the victims of the storm in our state. Well, that sounded great, but then I saw a report about a woman in Island Park, NY (southern shore community on Long Island), who still has no power, is living in filth, and hasn’t seen assistance from anyone in the government or anyone else yet.
I think this is the nature of this disaster, and it is playing out on our television screens (if we have electric power). It seems as if it is going to get very ugly before it gets any better, kind of like watching a marathon of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, except in that case it never gets better. That Island Park woman’s story can be multiplied by hundreds of thousands. I know people are suffering all over the world, but perhaps here we have a microcosm of a suffering that defines the greatest fears of modern western society, one that is incomprehensible to us because it is not supposed to happen here.
How dependent are we New Yorkers (I’ll be specific simply because this is my own situation) on an infrastructure that we take for granted? We soldier on each day expecting that trains will run, traffic on bridges will flow freely, tunnels will be open, planes will take off and land, and Starbucks will have the coffee hot and waiting for us. When these things do not happen all at once, there is a collective culture shock that borders on mass hysteria. Add to this a city that is flooded, powerless, and hungry, and you have a miasma that borders on the cinematic wastelands we have become inured to through endless films and TV shows.
In my house we went without power and that meant no heat, no hot water, no Internet or TV. It was like the end of the world as we knew it. As we sat around with lanterns and flashlights, we took turns telling ghost stories (since it was Halloween after all). I also explained that this was how most people lived one hundred years ago, and the concept seemed exciting to the kids for a short time. My 11 year old became tired of the novelty very quickly. She is a child of technology and does not know life without iEverything. She stared at the useless Wii console in the darkness of the room, seeming as if her best friend had gone to the great beyond. I can’t tell you how many times I was told that “This hurricane thing is so boring.”
That first night in the darkness it seemed as if we were travelers in a spaceship that had lost power. We sat in darkness, hearing the wind howl outside fiercely, as if the ship were tumbling out of control through space. The trees bashed the house like a meteor shower, and the rain pelted our windows like fire from alien crafts. Somehow we made it through the tumultuous night, and in the morning it felt like we had crashed on an alien world. We ventured outside, opening our front door as if it were a hatch on that spacecraft. We walked over debris, large branches, and scattered Halloween scarecrows and witches like astronauts crossing a new terrain.
Everyone was looking around at this “new” world, with toppled trees, some crushing roof tops, others blocking streets and dangling dangerous wires across sidewalks. It did seem as if the old world we knew had been irrevocably changed by the force of a hand more powerful than anyone could have imagined.
The initial awe was soon replaced by stark reality. We had no power, and in this world we live in power is everything. The life we have created for ourselves is inextricably linked with being able to fire-up the whole array of tools we use in daily life. The batteries were low in our cell phones, laptop, lanterns, and flashlights. We had replacement batteries for the latter, but the phones and laptops were going to expire without the ability to recharge. Plus all the other things we need power for: the microwave, the stove, the heat, the hot water, the toaster, etc., sat uselessly in a house that now seemed less like home and more like a place where we crashed to escape the storm.
As the days passed, it seemed people got more desperate. Once our local Starbucks gained power, I saw people lining up outside with laptops in their hands. Inside customers sat on anything and everything, including all over the floor. The baristas could barely keep up with the orders, for people were looking for sustenance for not only body but also for the mind. They were going stir-crazy in homes with no connection to the world we have created, one of the expected instantaneous connection that without which we are lost children.