Our family and our town escaped the worst of Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall near Atlantic City, a little more than 100 miles to the south. Gov. Chris Christie has described our state has suffering "incalculable loss." Millions of us are still without power. The town where I work is forbidding cars on roads; the downed wires and trees are everywhere. Our town lost power Monday night, along with phone service, Internet access and heat and dozens of old trees. But we still have clean water, thankfully, and no trees fell on our our 110-year-old home, which swayed in the high winds Monday night.
Good friends a few doors down had an enormous sycamore fall on their house Monday night. (See above) My husband heard it fall from our house. Because their house is nearly a century old, it is solidly built, and was able to withstand the weight of the tree with minimal damage to their roofs.
All yesterday, folks drove by and shot pictures of the house and the tree. "This is the worst one in town!" they would exclaim before driving off. I admit to some disaster tourism myself, shooting that picture as well as a few of other homes on our block. (That last picture is of a phone pole and street light that fell on our block).
What is it in the human heart that makes us want to look at the consequences of natural disasters? Is this schenfreude, the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others, the sense of relief that it could have been us, but wasn't?
Or are we fascinated by natural disasters to remind ourselves that no matter how carefully we construct our lives, we never really are in control, and that we can lose everything we cherish at any moment?
Once again, a disaster brings out the best in us. My next-door neighbor has been making me my much-needed coffee (they have a small gas generator); I scoured the grocery store shelves for baby formula for an acquaintance's newborn who does not breastfeed and our friends, the ones with the much-photograhed tree, had about a dozen teens over last night and cooked them hamburgers on the grill on their back deck.
My husband, whose job involves emergency management, has either been working or sleeping, for the most part. So I went over there last night, too, armed with a bottle of Frangelico and a bottle of vodka, and spent a couple of hours drinking and chatting with the parents.
Today I drove to a laundromat one town over, with our younger son, so we could keep up with laundry. My husband is working. Our older son is out with friends, trying to make money turning down trees into firewood. Now my younger son and i are sitting in the parking lot of a shopping center, happy to have wifi.
We don't know when our electricity will return; the rumor is November 9. To drive along the roads here is to see a ghost town of shuttered shopping centers. The traffic lights don't work, which means we Jersey drivers have had to rediscover a sense of courtesy and caution.