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After the Storm

HOBOKEN, NJ - OCTOBER 31:  Residents traverse flooded streets as clean up operations begin on October 31, 2012 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Known as the Mile Square City, the low-lying neighborhoods suffered deep flooding resulting from the storm surge associated with Hurricane Sandy.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Photograph by Getty Images

Last week, as the East Coast geared up for Hurricane Sandy, I was lamenting the inconvenience—power failures, a guaranteed closure for my daughter’s day care and, perhaps most miserably, no Internet.

But living in Jersey City, across the Hudson from Manhattan and nestled in the heart of a flood zone, we had to heed the warnings about the impending disaster Sandy could bring. Many dismissed these warnings as media hype, given the whimper of Irene just last year. But my parents were close by, and the idea of being trapped with a bored 2-year-old in a 700-square-foot apartment for days on end without power was just too much to bear. So, on Sunday, we took the train down to Central Jersey and settled into the house I grew up in.

We thought we were well-prepared: non-perishables, a solid stock of water, batteries, fully-charged cells, even a few Doc McStuffins DVDs for my daughter Kavya to while away the hours indoors. And Monday night, as the storm raged outside, we were cozy and comfortable with our bellies full and tucked under blankets with an old Bollywood film playing.

For most of us, the storm was just a passing inconvenience—a bit of a scare, a week-long adventure to break up the monotony. Glenda Moore, though, lost everything.

But at 8:08, just as darkness descended, the lights went out. With thunder, a downpour and winds reaching up to 80 miles an hour, we sat in the living room and talked in the dark, Kavya feeling for us blindly, her little hands finding our faces. The next morning, in the eerie calm, my dad peeked outside and discovered that the ancient evergreen, a 40-footer that had stood in front of the house far longer than I’d been alive, had fallen into the road in front of the house. Had it swayed in the other direction as it collapsed, it would have landed in the living room—right on top of us.

One day passed without power, and then a second. There was nothing to be done except ride it out. Kavya had a ball. She was the center of attention, found lots of new toys to play with and, best of all, she didn’t have to go to day care, practice her numbers or go to bed on time. It was almost better than Christmas. The rest of us? Well, we had a complaint or 10. With subways and trains downed, there was no heading home anytime soon. Gas lines were miles long; grocery stores ran out of bread, milk and eggs; and schools were closed indefinitely. And, as a self-employed, work-at-home mama, this storm was costing me money. Not that I’d be able to get anything done anyway, with a toddler underfoot.

On the fourth day, reality invaded as we started seeing those pictures of the Jersey Shore—a childhood playground—decimated by the storm. As recovery efforts began, the body count rose and rose and rose, and now stands at nearly 160. But still, it all seemed very far away. That is, it did until I read a news item about one woman on Staten Island. She’d seen her sons, Connor, 4, and Brandon, 2, swept right out of her arms as she tried get them to safety. The stuff of any mother’s worst nightmare. I kept replaying her struggle over and over in my head—trying to carry those two little boys against the current, not unlike the way I’d have to push through a throng of rush-hour commuters with little Kavya, who couldn’t understand the chaos. Her struggle hit too close to home. And then the boys’ bodies were found, just a few blocks from where she’d lost them.

For most of us, the storm was just a passing inconvenience—a bit of a scare, a week-long adventure to break up the monotony. Glenda Moore, though, lost everything. My heart hurts for that mother. I find myself mourning with her and for her. Because she could be any one of us.

Here I was complaining that I actually have to have my 2-year-old, safe and sound, home from school. Sandy’s wrath made me ashamed of that silly, endless, busy-mom lament. And then it made me grateful, grateful that I still have my daughter, who’s here and smart and vibrant and cuddly—and most importantly, safe. It made me realize just how lucky most of us were, and that this storm has left a major mark—the worst of which is slowly unraveling—across the East Coast. We take so much for granted, and I don’t doubt, a week or three from now, that I’ll be complaining again about how overworked or frazzled or bored I am. But for a moment, in the wake of Sandy and the shadow of Thanksgiving, I’ll pause to be grateful for all that I have.

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