The tree crashed against our house with a thunderous bang. In fact, I was convinced it was thunder when I heard it—vaguely, from the recesses of my sleeping mind. My wife knew it was something else, but after a quick inspection of the house’s interior—lights on, nothing visible amiss, I convinced her to go back to bed. Outside, all was darkness. Whatever it was, it could wait until morning. Morning was when we found the 100-foot oak down and blocking our front door, having ripped off a corner of our roof, destroyed our gutters, and mangled our front-step railing.
It was later, when a limb crushed the windshield of our SUV and the power went out for four days, that the limits of our ability to deal with adversity—and each other—were tested. The scramble for a generator, the saving and sacrifice of food, the bailing out of a basement, the struggle to stay warm and not succumb to the frustrating effects of cabin fever—we went through all of them in that taxing, challenging autumn—of 2011.
By comparison to Irene and the Halloween snowstorm last year, we came through Sandy relatively unscathed. This time, the trees and limbs in our neighborhood fell on someone else’s house. The outages—two days for PSE&G, three days for Comcast (the triple-play version)—were tolerable. We are mindful of our extreme good luck when we leave our immediate neighborhood at night and drive through the pitch blackness our neighbors still face.
The lights came back on just as our gas cans for the generator ran out, and we filled up our cars before the storm. Since our employers and clients are accommodating about working from home, we may actually avoid the long lines for gas until more stations are back in operation.
We are not completely out of the woods. An empty, unoccupied family home is in Rockaway Beach, Queens, less than a hundred yards from the ocean, and we haven't yet been able to determine the damage it sustained. The expenses could be significant. We will probably need to invest in a bigger generator and in more removal of the trees we love to ensure the safety of our home here in Colonia during what are sure to be more and bigger storms.
As maddening as these inconveniences are and will continue to be, those of us lucky enough to have our heat, our food, and our communications know—or should know—that sometimes only fate stands between us and an outcome much darker than that imposed by severed power lines. The unexpected horror of a mother’s two children ripped from her by a storm follows on the heels of a mother’s two children taken forever from her by a nanny. By storm or by madness, only the horror remains the same.
Somewhere, someone is always enduring a darkness blacker than ours.
So as we deal with our losses of property and convenience, we’re grateful for those from sectors public and private, and individuals of great and modest means, who rush to the aid of others and bring some literal or metaphorical light to the darkness—those who help us find our way back to some physical or spiritual normalcy.
As we enter a holiday season that could yet see nor’easters and blizzards, and all manner of manmade storms, let’s remember that we all have the power to brighten someone else’s space and lead them out of the darkness, especially when our own lights are fully charged, and our paths are brightly lit.