For anyone who doesn’t live on the upper east coast of the US right now, the buzz about Hurricane Sandy is probably some distant disaster. But last night, when the wind was howling so fiercly I thought our windows might shatter, it was very close and very real. There are wires dangling down across our driveway, and school has been cancelled for three days now. Our generator is keeping the food in our refrigerator fresh and our water running, so we’re luckier than most people, but it is amazing to think that we’re living through history right now. NYC hasn’t been shut down like this since the blizzard of ’88. Eighteen eighty-eight.
It’s interesting how we tend to take our luxuries for granted until they’re not available to us anymore. Today, my mother practically squealed with delight when she remembered that the garage doors were connected to the generator. When darkness fell at six and only the kitchen had working lights, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who appreciated the daylight a little more. And without the usual technological distractions to separate us, we spent the evening playing Boggle and Luck of the Draw as a family. It was actually a lot of fun. We usually all watch murder mysteries together on Netflix when my dad gets home from work, but it’s a passive sort of family activity, and I think we all often forget how nice spending time together can be. (In moderation, though. I am getting a little stir-crazy after being trapped in this house with my parents for three days straight without contact to the outside world.)
Natural disasters tend to bring people together, within families and even between nations, but the extra kindness and the helping hands won’t last for long. Sure, today I’m playing board games with my family, today neighbors are lending each other food and transportation,today absences are being exused, today civilians are donating their time to aid the less fortunate. But what about tomorrow? What about next week? What about a month from now? The damage will be repaired, the power lines restrung and the trees cleared, homes restored, businesses running as usual. There will be no family game nights or generous volunteers.
Some people would argue that there’s no need for that sort of thing when daily activities haven’t been disrupted, but I beg to differ. If we can be so charitable and understanding in the face of danger and destruction, why can we not carry that attitude into our normal lives? What’s the excuse to be rude, to make assumptions, to ignore other people’s cries for help? Why is a homeless person less deserving of food than a flood victim? Why not invite your neighbor over for dinner on a night when she does have power?
When I walked into the kitchen this morning, the radio was on. Whoever was speaking insisted that New York was the greatest city, the strongest city in the world, and not only was it going to bounce back from this storm, we were going to “rebuild it even better than before.” I snorted into my coffee at this absurd optimism, but then I stopped to wonder: why not? Why not build a brighter tomorrow? I, for one, intend to take a few extra steps every day to be a little kinder, a little more helpful, a little more understanding, without expecting anything in return. Perhaps I can’t change human nature, but what harm could a little extended storm-hospitality do?