Like most people on the East Coast this past week, I spent all of last weekend preparing my house and my family for what was predicted to become one of the worst hurricanes in US history. Then we spent all of Monday sitting, lying in wait, listening to the wind whip around our block, watching our power flicker. And then most of Tuesday recovering.
Fortunately, here in the DC region, we emerged relatively unscathed, and by the time this is posted on Thursday, we will have our essential services back in place and most people will have returned to work and school.
My friends and colleagues in New York City were not quite as fortunate. The pictures of Battery Park and the East Village underwater, of the Battery Tunnel submerged and knowing that ConEd turned off the power to most of lower Manhattan is just shocking.
Global warming has arrived. It is irreversible. Our lives are going to change. According to the experts, we are going to continue to see more catastrophic storms hit, causing more and more damage to our infrastructures, eroding our shore lines, and changing the way we work, travel, and live.
But in fact, that’s not what I’m really thinking about this week. What I’m really thinking about is my friend who just lost her mom after a four-year battle with breast cancer. And two other friends whose fathers died last month. And my own dad, who is struggling with his own challenging health issues these days.
I’m thinking about the changes that sweep through our lives like these storms, the losses that we suffer, and that fact that they irrevocably change us, much like the hurricane that passed our way this week.
I’m thinking about how none of us escape the experience of growing older, of watching our parents age and eventually die, of raising our children and watching them leave, and of the shifting sands of our own lives.
I’ve been feeling very ephemeral, wondering whether the hurricane was going to hit us, and if so, if we would be left in the dark for hours or days or even weeks. Wondering whether a tree would come down on our house. Wondering whether our lives would be thrown into tumult temporarily, or if something more permanent would change.
I’ve been thinking about my friend’s mom, and the past four years of her life, lived well and humbly and with an abundance of love and gratitude. Of what it might feel like to know that your time is limited. How would you spend the precious moments?
I’ve been thinking about the practice of mourning in Judaism, where each step is attenuated to a psychological moment of grief, and how you must step into its fray. You can’t step around it, just as you can’t step around the detritus after a storm. You must enter into its eye, and feel the wind knock you down before you can stand up again.
My friends who are mourning their parents right now are going through a series of firsts – the first birthday without their parent, the first holiday season, the first moment a grandchild has a big problem or unexpected success and it can no longer be shared.
Soon, the shifting sands will settle, and my friends will start to shake off the first numbness of their loss, and learn what the new shape of the shoreline of their life looks like. They will move into the next phase, without their parents, and the storminess of the period of initial loss will subside. A bit.
But new storms will be brewing. We all face them. And just as there will be another hurricane that floods, another snowstorm that shuts down a city, another earthquake that unmoors the foundations of buildings that were built to last, we will all face new personal storms. And we can only hope that we will find the strength to weather them as they hit, with patience and kindness to ourselves and the fortitude to know that they too will pass, recasting the shorelines of our lives in their wake.
Photo by CasualCapture via Flickr