Superstorm Sandy Survivor’s Guilt

I'm still reeling with survivor's guilt from Superstorm Sandy, and as I write this, a nor'easter is making conditions miserable outside and adding insult to injury. I grew up and live in Manhattan, a place where we worry about being able to afford sky-high rents, getting our kids into a good public school (or figuring out a way to finagle them into a good private one), and we concern ourselves with staying alert to lunatics on the subways and sidewalks. Worrying about storms and hurricanes? Not so much.

Last August, we panicked and prepared for Hurricane Irene.  We stocked up on food and water, flashlight batteries, candles, and debated whether or not to tape up the windows. (We didn’t.) Manhattan was basically spared. This time around, the warnings for Sandy were even more ominous, but we did the same.  What else could we do? We took the kids, a 13 and a 19-year-old, out to the store where they helped us load up on water, food, flashlight batteries, and then at home we debated, once again, whether or not to tape up the windows. (We didn’t.) On pre-storm Facebook, New Yorkers joked about having enough wine. Calls and emails from friends abroad and around the county came in, concerned for our well-being. We explained to them that lower Manhattan was the main at-risk zone, and that our Harlem neighborhood, perched high on Sugar Hill, was probably not going to feel much of the pain. Yet, when they shut down the subway system in New York City, you know it’s serious. The kids got a little more worried, then we got a little more worried.

A final trip out was made for more water and snacks, requisite photos of the 13-year-old blowing in the wind were taken. When we finally hunkered down for dinner and a screening of Moonrise Kingdom, we heard the wind and rain whipping fiercely outside of our windows, and waited anxiously. Obviously that’s the thing about hurricanes; you never know what will happen. Even when they downgrade the hurricane's status to "Superstorm Sandy," which unfortunately sounds like Barbie's best friend, you still don't rest easy. You have to let go, but you don’t sleep peacefully.

In the morning, we looked out of the window to a silent wet, gray morning. Other than a few trees down in Riverside Park, we could not access any damage in our vicinity. But when we turned on the news and found devastation, we all felt very, very grateful. We were safe and dry, with electricity, food, and running water. I felt a little guilty. In the days to follow, housebound, we were all glued to the television. Our downtown neighbors with no electricity or heat; flooded subway tunnels; evacuations from downtown hospitals whose generator’s failed; Hoboken under water; fallen trees killing people in their homes; multiple carbon monoxide deaths; drowning deaths; Staten Island looking as though it had been hit by a wrecking ball; no gas at the pumps, and the worst news of one particular day, the discovery of the lifeless bodies of the two little Moore children, ages two and four, found in a field after they had been swept out of their mother’s arms.

Lives have been shattered, and for the survivors, there remains the anxiety of knowing that no one is safe from natural disasters. Your luck can change in an instant, from borough to borough, or in a few city blocks. These are the moments when, hopefully, at least for awhile, we cease to complain about foolishness.

Labels: , ,