Sunday, October 23, 2016

From Darkness to Light — What Hurricane Sandy Taught Me

 On Sunday night, October 28th, my fiance and I were driving back from Chicago to our apartment in New York City in the hopes of beating the storm — a record-breaking 900 mile wide hurricane called Sandy. We didn’t want to be stranded away from our apartment, but we also didn’t want to be in the middle of the storm — it was such a hard decision… but we decided to drive into Manhattan if we possibly could.

Miraculously, we drove through the night and made it by 6am.  And when I say “we” drove, I mean that Tim (my fiance) stayed awake and drove us through rain and wind to get safely home.  By the time we reached Pennsylvania and New York, the weather had subsided — the cliche calm-before-the-storm allowed us to actually get home in time for the storm.

Like all New Yorkers, we find it somewhat alarmist to buy into the media hype about storms and predictions, but because I was raised by a few Eagle scouts and was surrounded by camping outings as a kid, I wanted to “be prepared” — we decided to stop at a giant super store on the way home in order to stock up on supplies.  Just in case.

I’m so grateful that we did.  We loaded up on candles, water, canned goods and matches, then continued on our midnight drive to Manhattan.

Monday night the storm hit at about 6pm  — as was predicted — the most devastating part was the surge that followed the eye of the storm.  The 11-foot surge of water hit Manhattan and flooded its low-lying areas.  Our neighborhood is adjacent to a low lying area, so we were not worried that we would suffer water or wind damage… but we were concerned that we would be without power for 2 or 3 days.

At about 8:30pm on Monday night we lost power.  “Here we go” we said to each other as we cooked a giant feast of things that remained in our freezer.  We were planning on being in the dark for at least 2 days, maybe 3.  When I say “darkness” I mean … dark.  You couldn’t see anything in the apartment, nor in the halls, nor outside.  Manhattan fell completely dark.  Below is a photo taken in our apartment…

One of my best friends lives in Florida and is an experienced hurricane survivor.  She called and warned me to fill the tub with water and to stock the freezer with many ziplock bags filled with water.  I didn’t realize just how handy this advice would be.

On Tuesday morning, I walked to look at the damage.  About 4 long-blocks from our apartment I found the above car covered by a piece of “driftwood” — at first I thought that the wind must have blown over a tree onto the car.  But then I realized – the water actually floated that driftwood onto land.  That car (and many others lining 20th street) had been completely submerged in water the night before.

Starting the morning with a cup of coffee is a ritual we enjoyed.  So in lieu of the electricity to brew or grind fresh coffee, I invented a somewhat primitive form of grinding coffee, using a hammer to smash each bean.  It was a test in mindfulness and patience for sure!  Then came the cold water (we were SO LUCKY that our gas and water never shut off during the storm).  Not having hot water means, no showers and no way to clean dishes — unless you boil water first.  So that became the morning and evening ritual — boiling water to clean anything and everything.

Burning candles from about 4pm onward for almost 6 days straight, meant that I had to re-structure my day according to the light of the sun.  I certainly couldn’t do any work that required the internet or electricity, but I found all kinds of filing and organizing that I had postponed.  Mostly, the darkness in Manhattan provided much needed quiet time — away from an electronic device, or from my computer, from e-mail or from social media.  Time to sit and be still.  Time to slow down, read, come together with neighbors and community.  I cooked food for my neighbors.  We shared stories.  We helped each other through the storm and the darkness…

On day 2 I brought out my yoga mat and started doing a yoga practice in the darkness… with candles all around.  The yoga helped me to stay warm (we had lost heat) but was also so peaceful and calming.  By the end of the practice I had a new gratitude for the storm and all it was teaching me … strangely, in the midst of chaos and craziness, I was finding much peace and light.  I was learning what was really important.

Today is Friday – day five — of living in the darkness.  A dear friend called and offered his apartment so we could shower and re-charge electronically and spiritually.  As I re-enter civilization after 5 days in darkness, I hope I never take for granted the ease we have each day: how simple it is to turn on a light switch, how easy it is to wash dishes or to take a shower … and I empathize greatly for those who are still struggling in darkness – in the aftermath of the storm.

— Robyn Hussa is the Author and Editor of the We Are The Real Deal blog universe and Founder and CEO of the NORMAL nonprofit.  She is a national speaker on the topics of body image, eating disorders and mindfulness.  Learn more

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