My son Paul was born on October 29, 2000. Last year, when the Halloween snowstorm wreaked havoc on West Orange and surrounding areas during his 11th birthday, he claimed it was the worst day of his life. But who could imagine that on his 12th birthday another storm would hit – and this one with even more far-reaching damage?
Some Patch readers may remember the blog I wrote last year on how my family coped with having no power and heat for more than five days. I reflected on what the experience had taught us, never suspecting we’d be drawing upon it so vividly only twelve months later.
Now in the two weeks since Hurricane Sandy pummeled New Jersey, I dare say no one touched by her could claim their lives weren’t significantly changed – many forever. The anecdotes of shock, fear and frustration as well as compassion, heroism and gratitude would fill volumes.
Two words come to mind to describe how we weathered the storm: “sacrifice” and “community.” The first is a quality usually attributed to our parents or grandparents -- as in, the sacrifices made for our freedom in World War II or the sacrifices endured during the Great Depression – not something common to our current lexicon.
However, Sandy required of everyone some sort of sacrifice. Undoubtedly, the biggest sacrifices were called of those whose homes suffered serious damage, but also of those shivering in dark houses for days on end, anxious caregivers with needy dependents, motorists who nervously hit the roads and waited for hours in search of gas, as well as commuters, business owners and students. And certainly, we cannot forget the first responders, utility workers and public works employees who sacrificed time away from families to help bring our lives back to normal.
While many suffered a significant loss of material possessions from the hurricane, we can, in fact, claim some important gains: a new-found fortitude and a stronger appreciation of how connected we all are as a community.
In the aftermath of the storm, it became clear that just about everyone in town was in the same boat – no power, no heat and limited fuel – and the only way to get by and get through the adversity was not in isolation, but rather by coming together and helping each other in any way we could.
I spent much of the six-plus days my family lacked power out and about town. Everywhere I went – walking my dog though the neighborhood, nearly daily visits to Shop Rite, St. Joseph’s Church, Pals Cabin and the shops at Essex Green – I encountered friends and neighbors who were anxious to share stories of how they were getting along.
Residents armed with bow and chain saws worked together to clear paths through the tangle of fallen trees littering properties and streets. Others took to regularly checking on elderly neighbors alone in their powerless homes.
Friends of ours with power opened their home, providing dinner and the opportunity to charge our personal and electronic batteries the first weekend. They even let our son sleep over and allowed others use of their washer & dryer.
And there were the tales of power company employees from distant states, who, despite an endless string of 16-hour work days, were considerate and courteous to frazzled customers as they put back together the wires, poles and transformers of a power grid that served as a lifeline to the neighborhood.
Personal memories that endure from Hurricane Sandy include: sitting on my sun porch at dusk in the midst of the storm, transfixed by the sight and sound of more than a dozen trees – in unison -- swaying deeply to the left with a roaring gust of wind, then seconds later, bending just as deeply and noisily to the right. And the next afternoon, gasping when I caught sight of my cousin’s house and the 100-foot oak crashed against it, and the sick feeling in my stomach as I stared at other Gregory neighbors’ homes with roofs punctured by massive trees and limbs.
Pleasantly, I savored the myriad of eclectic meals cooked on the stove-top or gas grill that made use of our perishables (so proud of discarding less than $25 worth of spoiled food this time!), as well as family dinners by candlelight. And I’ll never forget the night huddled in bed with two of my kids watching a Harry Potter DVD on my laptop in the pitch dark.
Most importantly, however, is the huge sense of relief that the massive property damage incurred by our residents and businesses wasn’t accompanied by loss of life or limb.
Forecasters predict these kinds of storms may be more common in the future. I truly hope that’s not the case. What I do hope is this enhanced sense of community and awareness that we’re all in this together is here to stay in our town – and that the only thing we’ll be talking about next October 29 is my son Paul’s 13th birthday.