I could only hear the angry whistles of Mother Nature ripping through my Chelsea neighborhood last night, just 6 blocks north of where its fury blew so hard, it took off the front of this entire building, leaving it eerily exposed like a dollhouse.
We were forewarned that power would most likely be lost, so I was prepared with candles, flashlights and matches. I am no stranger to power outages; as a child growing up on six acres of towering pecan trees in a small town outside of Houston, Texas, I peered out our front door many times watching thunderstorms roll in with fury, the sky an ominous greenish-grey color. But being tucked in with my parents and sister down a dirt road with little civilization nearby felt very different than last night, being alone in my Manhattan apartment and surrounded by people but unable to connect to any of them.
The wind roared, and the lights flickered before everything went black, besides the warm flicker of the candle I had already lit in preparation for the impending darkness. I lit the other candles and it was a shrine in my living room sending thoughts and prayers for the unknown- without TV or internet coverage, I had no idea what was transpiring outside of my 19th century brick walls.
The winds died and I took a flashlight through the pitch black corridor of my hallway and down the stairs to peer outside and try to safely get a glimpse of what was going on. I opened the door, and there was a stillness that I have never experienced before in my life. Its contrast to the norm was so unprecedented, as stillness like what I stepped out into does not exist in New York City. It is the city of lights, the city of movement and hustle, the city that never sleeps. There was not a streetlight to be seen, the light or noise of a car going by or the sound of people talking and laughing to be heard. It was absolute black silence. All I could do is stand still and absorb it.
People were emerging from their doors like from a scene of Armageddon, spilling into the middle of the leaf and branch covered streets.
The entire city was devoid of light, except for the towering angel of the Empire State Building in the distance. You don’t realize how much light normally exists until all that does exist is darkness.
There was a sense of awe in everyone’s presence; people were walking down the streets in a silent reverence. It was a holy moment- a moment of strength, of courage and of the resiliency of the human spirit. It was also a moment of fragility- no one was talking, but in the quiet steps, there was a weighty understanding of the delicate nature of life. Moments of tragedy and times of disaster wake us up to the reality that our time on this earth is limited. That is tragedy’s gift to us: that for a day, or two days, or a week– what is important to us is not the text messages we did or didn’t receive, what the scale said that morning or what we dislike about our job or our daily lives. For a short moment in time, life gets real. We become thankful for things that really matter to us, things like safety, family and shelter. We become grateful for all that we do have instead of longing for the things which we lack.
People walked slowly in the dark but made eye contact. It was the same beauty of humanity that came out after 9/11, when people put their differences aside not only in New York City but around the country, and showed love to one another. Perhaps tragedy exists to bring out the best in mankind. It gives us those tender moments that remind us we are not invincible and that over any amount of stuff, what we should be most grateful for is the experience of being alive.
I woke up this morning and went to survey the damage. It was not the war scene of Breezy Point in Queens or of the devastation of the Jersey Shore, but the evidence of Sandy was strong: fallen trees ripped right in half and out of the ground, heavy metal mailboxes and trashcans uprooted and tossed into the streets. People still walked quietly, surveying the damage and greeting each other with tender, kind eyes.
Soon, power will be back on, people will be hurrying to work with black briefcases in hand and worried looks upon their faces and life will return to normal. Buildings and homes will get re-built, the subway will run again, and businesses will re-open; all wonderful things. But in the midst of this, I hope that we as people learn– learn to become more thoughtful about life, more appreciative for the ability to wake up and breathe in air everyday, more grateful for all that we have — and that in its wake, devastation can leave this gift to humanity.