Friday, November 2, 2012

Post-Storm Thoughts: Seeing How the Other Half Lives

I live and work in the suburban counties surrounding NYC, so I’m currently living with some of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Compared to many in the region, I’m doing quite well...my home has power, my work is up and running...basically my life is very close to normal. One of my earliest posts in 2011 on this blog documented my pre-Hurricane Irene worries. This post is a sequel of sorts to describe some of my thoughts and experiences in a post-storm environment.


Since Katrina, thinking people are well aware of how hurricanes and other natural disasters exacerbate and magnify the impacts of social inequality. Disasters cause suffering, but the poor and marginalized who suffer during good times, suffer even more in the bad. In the past week, II was struck by how storm related disruptions pushed many people, like myself, into the experiential realm of marginalized people during “normal” times. I’ve been surprised by how worried and stressed these last few days have been. While I’m confident things will soon back to “normal” routine, worries about life’s basics are front and center, like a nightmare vacation that simulates fretting and concern rather than leisure and affluence.  Again, in light of what many others are facing, I’m clearly aware that my post-storm experience hasn’t been so bad.

Once we lost power, my first major concern was keeping milk cold enough for my two-year-old son’s consumption. We had a series of iced coolers that we transferred bottles between. As cold as the apartment itself was getting, keeping milk out on the kitchen counter didn’t seem like an intelligent alternative. So, once our cooler strategy began to fail, we were lucky enough to have nearby family that had a generator, and so a working refrigerator, to stay with for a night. Within 36 hours, my home had power and refrigeration restored. Things seemed back to normal until yesterday, it became clear the images of gas shortages I’ve only ever seen on television before were now a part of my immediate world. With my sizable daily commute, my ability to get to and from work might be difficult in the days to come.

I feel compelled to keep saying that relative to others, this isn’t that bad. This week has shown me how truly disconcerting the constant worry about access to basic resources can be. How am I going to feed my kid? How am I going to keep my family warm? How can I cobble together enough gas to get to work so that I can keep bringing home a paycheck? A historic storm made me seriously ask these questions, but these are questions that many ask every day during bright and beautiful weather.  For this brief window of time, a natural disaster knocked me a few rungs down the social ladder and offered a glimpse at what is much too familiar to too many.

2 comments:

  1. We pay attention to natural disasters when they come because they are so sudden and dramatic, but the social disaster of poverty, inequality and disinvestment in communities that are of not of use or interest to corporations and the wealthy is an ongoing crisis that needs more attention. Sadly, most prefer to look the other way, and even more sadly, it seems to me that many people who become parents become so absorbed in their domestic world that they completely lose touch with the social problems outside of their homes. As long as little Johnny makes it to his soccer game, all is right with the world...

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