Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Storm This Time

Earlier this week, I spent a couple of days cooped up indoors, riding out Hurricane Sandy. Looking back, I realize how different this experience was from the time I spent in this same little home in 2003, riding out Hurricane Isabel.

Back then, I had been living in this condo apartment a little less than 6 months, and I didn't know any of my neighbors well. We were directly in the path of the hurricane. The power went out fairly quickly and was not restored for a week and a half. Only one of the building's backup generators was running at full power. One had partial power, and the other had none at all.

Fortunately, my kitchen was on the line to the fully functional generator, but it wasn't safe to use my electronic devices because of the power fluctuations. No television, no email, spotty telephone service -- and no lights in my bedroom. I suppose I could have sought out company in the building lobby, but I was afraid of being so close to the window wall that fills the lobby with sunlight on a normal day. I had never been directly in the path of a hurricane, and I had no idea what to expect. I felt so alone.

Fortunately, I had booked airline tickets many weeks in advance for a trip to see my family in New Mexico. Thus, after a few days (that felt like an eternity), I was able to board the plane right on schedule and fly away from my windswept exile. My sister kidded me that I had to go almost 2000 miles to get a hot shower and cash from a working ATM machine. I was just glad to be back among familiar faces.

This time around, the Washington DC area was hit with a glancing blow. Again, I spent a couple of days housebound, but it was a very different experience. The day before the storm, my neighbors and I chatted in the lobby. I knew that if I needed anything, I could knock on any one of a dozen doors and find a friend to help me. We never did lose power, but I knew from previous storms that our current building maintenance crew was diligent about keeping the generators ready to go. I didn't have plane tickets this time, but I didn't need them. I was prepared and well connected.

I thought that I might work on several projects around the house during the storm, but instead I spent a lot of the time online chatting with friends and family all over the country. I posted photographs and status reports online and kept up with my local friends who were doing the same.

I surprised myself by what I didn't do during the storm. I didn't turn on the television until late in the day. I knew from past experience that all of the stations would be broadcasting nonstop, breathless coverage of the very worst effects of the storm. There's only so much of that I can take, especially if I'm looking out the window to see how much damage is in my own back yard. I didn't watch movies or work on craft projects. I didn't do any writing (although I filled up six pages in my journal the day after the storm).

No, what I did was to seek out my friends and stay connected with them. It was a more concentrated version of what I've been doing lately during normal weather. I'm not nearly the news junkie I used to be, and I have a whole list of household projects that I haven't even started. Sometimes, I criticize myself for not being more "productive". Then I realize that I am doing exactly what I need to do.

When I started this year, my goals included improving my mental and physical health, making more time for the people in my life, working on creative projects, and finding a way to make a living that uses and builds my strengths. I have a pretty good handle on the mind/body thing, and now I'm working on building up my friendships. I'm making small inroads on the list of projects (paying and not), but for now, I'm building and strengthening my own personal community. The rest of it will come in good time.

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