The aftermath

I’m lucky to say my area of Manhattan mostly escaped the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. Our Internet connection was spotty on Monday, so my wife and I watched movies and ate leftovers mostly unaware of the devastation a few miles away in practically every direction until I finally checked the news late in the evening.

On the south shore of Long Island, my parents lost some trees and are still without power. My uncle’s house, once on the water, is now more or less in the water. But everyone I’ve heard from is OK (knocking wood). I haven’t seen any of the worst damage first-hand and I have no real sad stories or hardships to share from the disaster, so I am not particularly fit to address or advise anyone in its wake. But since I’m back in the office today and would very much like to get back to writing about the Mets and Taco Bell and everything, and since it would feel weird to entirely ignore the storm on a blog so fueled by New York City, here’s this:

A few months after Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest and most destructive natural disasters in the history of the United States, I toured the wreckage in New Orleans with a group from my grad school. Our guide, a 70-something lifelong Louisianan named Dottie, told us she had never uttered a single swear word in her life before the storm. After the storm, she locked herself in a room and yelled every one she could think of, and a few new ones she made up on the spot.

Dottie took us to her house, in what used to be a pretty little suburban neighborhood, emptied by the effects of the storm. She took us inside the gutted frame and showed us where her family photos had been, and her favorite plants, and where she used to sit and read after work. Then she showed us the spot in her backyard where the levee broke, and the last remaining life in her community: The handful of fish swimming in what had been her pool. Later, she took us to the Ninth Ward.

S!@# F!@#!@ C)(!&!@&@#&!!@#!!!!

This storm is not like that storm for a variety of reasons, from the preparation to the impact to the response. But I suspect the common thread among all disasters beyond our control, of every scale, is the way they can make us want to shut ourselves away and curse whoever or whatever we feel is responsible for bringing such reckless awfulness upon us, or upon the people we love.

I trust no one going through that now is reading this blog today. That’s for the best, I think, because in the immediate aftermath of such things, wild profanity is probably more productive than perspective.

But I know also — and I hope I’m not the first to deliver this news — that practically everyone will at some point suffer some terrible misfortune at the hands of some unforeseen force. And as a veteran of my fair share of that, at least by the relaxed standards for well-educated 31-year-old American dudes from the suburbs, I can say that only healthy takeaway I know of from any of it is this: Try to be thankful for what you have today, and understand always that there are no guarantees.

That’s about all I’ve got.

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