My family and I were on the Jersey shore this past weekend. Ahead of Hurricane Sandy, the storm that would change the face of the entire coastline forever. The storm that will probably change a lot of things forever. The storm that everyone knew was coming, but we all were powerless to prevent.
We got in the car on Sunday, on the eve of the destruction, with the goal of heading home to the city. We thought about potentially being trapped in Manhattan and didn’t want that. But every weatherperson told us the eye was going to pass over NJ. We had no great option.
My wife’s aunt and uncle invited us to stay with them. They live a few miles inland in a central Jersey town called West Long Branch. That’s where we ended up.
The power went out around 7:30 Monday night. And just before I went to sleep, an 80 foot tree from a neighbor’s yard flew and thudded down just a few feet from the house. A few feet from where we all were. For some reason, it didn’t scare me. Afterwards, after I heard all the stories and saw all the carnage from the storm, I realized it should have. My kids and wife were in that house.
We got in the car and drove around Tuesday. Trees were down everywhere. On roads, in yards, on houses, in houses. What makes one tree fall into a house and another fall a few feet from it? Another reminder that we are powerless to some things in this world.
We managed to maneuver our car all the way to the coast. People’s homes. Places we used to frequent. Gone. It was sad. We turned around and drove home in silence.
We stayed in the house. We sat in the cold. We ate in the dark. Powerless again. Powerless in a different way, but similar to the way we were against the storm of the century. We were without electricity and couldn’t do anything about it.
We all will have things happen to us that we can’t control. No matter how well you are doing in your business, the economy may tank. No matter how well you love someone, you may be jilted. No matter how strong a house you build, a natural disaster can undo it. We are powerless to these things.
But obviously, in those times when we are powerless to the elements around us, we have power in our own decisions. In our own actions. In our own behavior. I can still choose what I deem most important. And act in accordance with that way.
On Tuesday, I cared about food. Warmth. The well-being of my family and the well-being of all those affected by the storm. That’s all.
I showered twice over the last five days. I didn’t shave at all. I didn’t put anything in my hair to make it look right. I’ve been wearing the same jeans since Sunday. Still today, same jeans. I’m not the most vain person in the world, but even the little energy I put towards that, went to the only things that mattered.
Life over the last few days was harder, but actually much simpler. I wasn’t powerless. I had the power to do whatever I needed to do to make sure what I needed to get done would get done.
We made it through fine. With the help of an incredible stable of in-laws, my kids honestly loved the experience. We found a hotel in the city yesterday. Heat. Light. Phone. Internet. All back around 12pm.
Finally plugged back in, I didn’t rapid fire phone calls or race through emails like I thought would. I played with my kids. Spent some time with my wife. I caught my breath. Tried to relax. It was a tense few days. I felt like I came out of a war zone…and I realize how insensitive that statement is to soldiers and war victims everywhere. But with the National Guard in that area screening cars for potential looters and curfews instituted, it really felt that way.
I finally shaved today. Saw a large pimple on my cheek. Something that honestly, and sadly, would have irked me a week ago. Obviously not today. Who cares?
I’m too busy thinking about the people who were powerless and lost everything they own in this storm. Even people who just lost things they loved, like homes, and boats, towns & neighborhoods, and even favorite restaurants that they will never get back. I was displaced for a few days, and I was severely affected. I’m too busy thinking about people who were powerless to being displaced from their homes and areas, permanently.
And I wasn’t in any real danger, with the arguable exception of a few hours. I’m busy thinking about people who actually live in war zones. Powerless to the politics around them that threaten their lives every day.
I didn’t lose anything of value in this storm. Except my virginity to real natural disaster. But that I believe is a blessing. And I gained a lesson that I will take with me my whole life.
While we are all powerless to certain things in this world, we hold the power of our own decisions during those times. We have the power to be miserable or not. The power to act humanely even when others are not. The power to go above and beyond to make sure people feel settled during a time of great unrest. The power to laugh and enjoy, during a time of great sadness. You have power to act any way you want in any given situation.
Lastly, we have the power to take in people when they have nowhere else to go and the power to make them feel completely comfortable in our home, during a time of great uncomfortableness. I know this is still happening, all over this great city. And this entire area. My heartfelt thank you goes out to all those who have taken in storm refugees this week. It’s remarkable. You are living proof that we still hold power, even in the midst of powerlessness.