Earthquakes, hurricanes, New Moon causing exceptionally high tides, mercury in retrograde…just a few of the tricks Mother Nature used last week to get our attention. I don’t think in my wildest dreams I could have imagined experiencing an earthquake in NYC followed a few days later by a devastating hurricane. Irene, although she did not inflict the flooding damage in NYC and the East End of LI that was anticipated, nonetheless wreaked havoc in other parts of the state and in New England. Tuesday August 22nd I happened to take the day off to be with my soon to be 93 year old mother. Engrossed sitting at her kitchen table putting her prescription medication into a weekly organizer she asked me “do you feel the floor shaking?” My initial thought as I looked over to her and saw her legs shaking was that she was fooling around. An instant later, I too felt the floor shaking and then saw the house swaying. A vase on the table was bouncing around. My first inclination something was happening with the foundation of the house. It’s about a 110 years old. I told her we had to get up and get out fearing it would collapse on us. As soon as we opened the front door and saw neighbors across the street standing in their doorway I knew we had just experienced an earthquake. It was my third or fourth, my mother’s first. How exciting life can be for a soon to be 93! I’m always amazed at times like this when something happens in just a few seconds and yet my memory of the event unfolding seems as if a much longer time transpired. The following day, although we’d been hearing about a storm forming in the Caribbean, we decided to leave for our weekend house. It was too early to say whether the storm would come ashore. By Thursday evening we knew it was headed our way. Friday morning it was apparent the storm would be hitting NYC and LI (where how home is). We needed to get preparations underway. Just filling up my gas tank was an experience with people pulling into the station from all directions. Anxiety and frustration were palpable. The potential for an argument or worse to start was increasing by the second. Frenzy in the IGA supermarket. People grabbed whatever they thought could get them through the storm, and its aftermath assuming power would be out for a few days.
Blessedly we got through the storm without damage to our home. We were without information for two days, after just having been bombarded with storm talk for the two previous days. Strangely enough the transition from nonstop information overflow to listening to the wind in the trees in the dark is not easy to make. We learned to cope without power. Eating food at room temperature. Taking time to read good books by flashlight and retiring early.
When we arrived home Monday we were surprised to hear of the devastation in counties north of the city and particularly Vermont. I thought of what it must have been like before the technology boom of the last 20 years. Imagine life a hundred years ago. People would be out of communication for days if not weeks or months. They would be forced to rely on their own skill, creativity and ingenuity. Communities would be forced to pull together.
What lessons do these recent occurrences hold? Must say I think NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg and his team did an outstanding job of communicating the seriousness of the situation and setting out specific guidelines that needed to be followed by residents of the city. Scheduled press conferences helped me feel informed even though I was in LI. Closing down the city’s mass transportation system was unprecedented; it kept people off the streets, out of harms way, and protected equipment from potential breakdown and erosion from salt water. For those who might think the city went too far, just imagine what could have happened in such a densely populated city? The Mayor demonstrated outstanding leadership his team modeled true organization engagement. The cynics will say this comes after the debacle with the snowstorm last winter. Obviously they learned from their mistakes.
These natural disasters force us to shift our attention to the human aspects of life. We walk around engrossed with our iPhones, Androids or Blackberries. It’s not unusual to see a family sitting together and yet everyone in on their own device “communicating”. The storm forced a whole generation of children, and families to entertain themselves without the benefit of power. What a novelty in today’s world.
Teamwork and community spirit are two other byproducts of Mother Nature’s fury. A friend was woken up in the middle of the night by pieces of sheetrock from her ceiling falling on her. A huge tree branch had struck their home crashing into the roof and breaking it. Once over the initial shock, neighbors rallied to help them cover up the gaping hole in the roof until contractors could start repairs.
The human spirit naturally full of the power of engagement is alive and well. We need to embrace it regularly otherwise Mother Nature will continue to create weather that insures our education.