The Silver Lining

Ask me to admit my biggest flaw as a human being and I’ll freely admit that it’s a lack of patience that gets worse with every passing year. Mostly, it manifests itself as a spoiled brattiness borne of my entitled upper-middle class upbringing and worsened by a career spent in the irritable bowels of Wall Street.

I’m unendurable when I don’t get my way and I don’t get it exactly now. I blame my parents for indulging me, lol.

But this afternoon I had a bit of a wake-up call.

I spent the day occupying one of my town’s sixteen bagel stores and usurping the joint’s free (if spotty) Wifi today so I could get some emails returned and some reading done to prepare for the week. At the counter I got into a conversation with the place’s owner, an Israeli named Sam who was quick to respond to my question of How are you guys? with an emphatic “We are not people who complain.” He didn’t need to finish the thought because I remember when he arrived in town twenty years ago with nothing but the will to start a business. And I’m certain he’s got family members who’ve survived the Holocaust and emigration and more just a generation ago. And the abrupt nature of his statement was just enough to shake me from the woe-is-me routine I’ve been laying on anyone who would listen these past seven days since the assault of Hurricane Sandy.

The truth is, yes I’ve been waiting in three hour gas lines and shivering myself to sleep each night, but virtually all of my friends and neighbors are in worse shape. Many of them have businesses that have not been able to open, most of them have homes that have been partially destroyed by wind and water – in some cases for the second time since last summer (remember Irene?). Unlike them,  I’ll not be dueling with disgusting insurance companies and I haven’t had to pump out a basement or rip out a soaking wet carpet.

One thing I’d like to note about the majority of New Yorkers and New Jerseyites I’ve spoken to in the aftermath: Every single one of them, even after complaining, has been quick to point out the fact that there is someone in worse shape than they are and so they’re “lucky.”  The guy who lost a boat is quick to point out that others have lost their homes. Those who have no homes remind themselves out loud that there is a woman in Staten Island whose two small children are still missing after having been pulled away from her in the midst of the storm night’s high tide (they have not been found as of this posting confirmed dead, my god). I have a guy named Joe who works in my office and lives in the Rockaways – he’s no longer got a place to live, but his first email to the firm was about how he’d be working remotely this week and would be available to help us (help US!) if we needed him.

It’s one thing to talk about resilience but it’s entirely another story to be surrounded by so much of it – so much of it in its most visceral post-crisis incarnation. I am awed by the ability of so many people to push down their own complaints to make room for the acknowledgment of the greater suffering or needs of others. This is the New York I hope they remember and write about long after the Chinese have conquered us in the second half of the 21st century.

I’d also like to note the fact that I am writing this post at the dining room table of a friend of mine. He and his wife are cooking the second dinner for my family this week and are hosting my kids in their lit and heated home for the third time since they got power back on Wednesday. I’m not quite sure how I can repay him but I am sure that it is the last thing he is expecting.

I’ve been hosted by other friends in Brooklyn and elsewhere, some of whom have allowed my wife to use their laundry machines and all of whom have offered us food, water and a warm place to sleep. Even some of you, blog readers and Twitter followers I barely know, have been heart-breakingly gracious enough to extend whatever comforts are within your power to me. I am blown away by the generosity, it is overwhelming.

And so when I think about the events of this week, I arrive at last at the silver lining that was there all along. This storm and its damage have revealed some easily forgotten truths to me, truths that I am grateful to receive even if in accepting them I am forced to come to terms with my own bitch-ass solipsism. There is an admirable strength inherent in the people I know and live amongst. And more than that, there is a selflessness that others in this world possess that is so broad that I am arrested by it, struck by its unconditionality.

The silver lining of Hurricane Sandy is now fully apparent to me. So whether or not we get our power back tonight or in a week, I am at last arrived at where I wish I was mature enough to have started – appreciative at all that I have and have not lost in my life.

Thanks to all of you for your well wishes and your tolerance of me. I’m cool now.


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