#Sandy in Brooklyn: What I learned from a Hurricane
October 31, 2012 § 3 Comments
When I was a little girl, my mother taught me that every story is a three car train. Engine. Middle car. Caboose.
That stands for intro, conflict and resolution.
I know enough, now, to realize that every life event is a series of three car trains. Intro. Conflict. Resolution. You can live a thousand of them in a day, an election, or – more sensitively for some of us – a hurricane.
Millions of us, all together, braced ourselves for the storm this weekend, joking about hurricane parties and “pooh-pooing” the predictions. Reddit told us to stock up on condoms and alcohol. We checked in to “Frakenstorm” on twitter.
We didn’t know it would be worse than they predicted.
We didn’t know – or perhaps I didn’t know – how lost it would make us feel.
I know this city by numbers and letters on a grid. I was just getting to feel familiar with the transit system. And – just like that – I no longer find my bearings by the C and the 6 and the J to Jamaica Center. Now, I have to board buses, find shuttles and maneuver my way through a city I only ever knew to be invincible, not to mention predictable enough to get home even when I’m drunk and tired.
I’m luckier than thousands of other people who lost homes and store fronts, not to mention the unthinkable – family members and friends. All I lost was my bearings and some business. And, I only have to be brave enough to venture out in order to slowly get them back.
A friend of mine flew in for a visit a few months ago and commented that, “New York claims its own.” He said that those of us who have migrated here were, “unable to resist the pull” – meant to be New Yorkers, though we started out somewhere else. I laughed. I admitted it was true. This city, man, it gets in your blood. Kind of like Africa. Kind of like running a social enterprise. Kind of like everything that’s shaped my life into the story it is now.
There was a time of fear before the hurricane hit, and a time of fear after it was gone. I felt them both hard, and they both centered around uncertainty – “What will it really be like?” and, then, “What do we do now that it’s gone?” Sometimes it felt like the water would never stop rising, with friends sending panicked texts from Jersey and tweets going out from folks stuck in buildings. We – once again – utilized twitter like we never had before, and those of us that didn’t “get” the buzz about this social platform before certainly did during the storm, when NYPD and NYFD, rescue team, dispatchers all poured out information from one platform. Those of us with power stayed online through the night, with news reporters and hospitals, dispatchers and government officials keeping us connected to our friends and fellow New Yorkers in the midst of the storm. Once again, it was different in New York than I think it would have been anywhere else. The community feeling, the relationship to a common cause – it brought us together in a way that made this city feel so unbelievably special and – for a moment – so small, against the wind.
The thing about your first New York disaster is that you hit a point where you start wondering why the hell you’re here. Anywhere in the world you could have picked to be and you just had to pick New York. Kind of like earlier this year, when I hit my first real wall as a social entrepreneur. Not only was I new in New York, sales were down. Criticism was up. I felt like calling it quits and going back to what felt safe – a regular job, colleagues from my own culture – work in my own country. Giant, uninformed idealism carries you through until the middle train hits. And, that’s the threshing floor. The tides are high. The wind is strong. And all you know is that you’ve got to pull out of it sometime…but you can’t know when. And, damn it you just want it to quit.
God, I felt like that during all first six months I spent in New York. We had such amazing customers in year one, out in California – like every woman I’d ever met anywhere was coming out to support us, and I developed this routine of running to the post office three times a week and uploading products in between. We kept our inventory in Sacramento and LA. I went to Africa twice that year and brought back new stock. And, I thought knew just exactly what we were doing. I had my bearings.
Until New York, that is. Once we re-located here, our story had to shift. Our messaging needed to be refocused. I went from paying most my bills out of my social enterprise to paying into my social enterprise from an almost full time job, and re-organizing our company internally until we could produce differently than we had before. I couldn’t afford to go to Africa, and had to find a way to streamline our process so we made better product than ever before, without me getting on a plane.
I wondered if I hadn’t gone bonkers, lost touch completely – was this really going to work?
It’s after the disaster – that crazy, wild storm this weekend – that I have first begun to see why it is that New Yorkers love their city so damn much. It’s only after the storm that it becomes your city. Your people are in those buildings – the boys you’ve dated and the girls you’ve met for beers, the friends you’ve laughed with, networked with or perhaps just met for a coffee are suddenly your real friends. They care. They’re checking in. They miss you – “are you alright?” They all want to know if you’re holding up ok. “Let’s get a drink after the storm, ok?” New York pulls in tight, during a storm. There are people who only started following me three days ago on twitter, but were there cheering me on when I thought I’d try and take a bus in to work, and again when I realized transit was still closed from Brooklyn. They’ve sent photos and asked about my neighborhood. They’ve made jokes about our plight. They’ve asked me for outside updates when they lost power. We’ve kept in touch – every day since that awful night.
This morning, the sun came out for the first time since Saturday. I laid in bed and watched it, burning red light spreading across the train platform above my window. And, I knew, for the first time, that the worst was really over.
We’ll all be working to get around this week – to find our lives again. And, we’re all at different stages. Some of us lost homes. Some of us lost electricity, or paychecks, business or inventory. Some of us just lost our bearings. But, together, like New Yorkers always do, those of us that have come to know this as our city will begin to rebuild and find our way together.
That’s what uncertainty and change do, you know. That’s what happens in the storm.
You lose a lot.
You wonder if you’ll ever gain much of anything after it passes through. Clouds still rumbling. Rain mist in the air.
And – then – the sun comes out, burning red outside your window. Hope swells in your chest. The rebuilding begins. And, you remember why you came here in the first place.
You came here because you knew, somewhere deep inside you, that New York was calling.
Sometimes it takes a storm to remind you that you were right.
Photograph by @andjelicaaa via Instagram.