After a day in The Rockaways

As I trudged past towering piles of sand and moldering debris in the Far Rockaways yesterday, I was suddenly reminded of a motorcycling accident I had in my early twenties. My boyfriend at the time was taking me for a ride on a beautiful sunny day in the Berkshire Mountains. He was driving just a bit too fast, in the middle of the road. As we crested a hill we came face to face with an oncoming car. After a terrifying moment, we pulled over to the shoulder and the bike fell to one side. We were both banged up but otherwise escaped unscathed. The experience made me realize something that should have been obvious: when you're riding a motorcycle there's very little standing between you and utter destruction.

Likewise, when Mother Nature turns to Mommy Dearest, there's only so much we can do to protect ourselves and the lives we've worked so hard to build. Standing in my kitchen just a little over a week ago, with violent gusts of wind battering my home and the lights flickering ominously, I felt an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. At any moment water could come rushing into our flood-prone basement; trees could crash through our many large windows; the power that kept threatening to disappear could make its final curtain call.

Ultimately we escaped the storm unscathed and have spent much of the past week helping those who were less fortunate. But I keep feeling like the idiot rejoicing at dodging a bullet who turns around to realize she's facing a firing squad. Because this time we just got really lucky. Next time, our home could be like the one I spent cleaning out today in the Rockaways: full of sewage-infused fragments of a life.

I remember many people remarking after Hurricane Katrina that New Orleans was ultimately doomed, because it was built below sea level. But much of the New York area is at sea level. Given the accelerating rise in the sea level, 'at' becomes 'below' rather quickly. At this point these freak storms feel like an annual event, at the minimum, and each time we face the question of whether it's better to sleep in the basement and face potential flooding or sleep on the second floor and risk getting hit by a falling tree (and why is it that so many of these storms seem to hit at night when we are sleeping?

So, thousands of years after it was written, Psalm 29 still captures much of what I've been feeling lately:

...The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, "Glory!" The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Today another storm is supposed to hit - a Nor'easter. I pray that those left homeless and vulnerable by Sandy's wrath will be safe. For those wishing to help with relief efforts, please check out this website for up-to-date information on how you can help.


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