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Sandy: In the Wake of the Storm

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I want to start this post by thanking everyone who has been keeping all of us East Coasters in your thoughts and prayers over the past couple of days.  I spent the whole time in my apartment alone, and as I was anticipating, it gave me time to really reflect on a lot things, so I thought I would share some of them with you. I’m sure that everyone else who went through the storm, and even those who watched it, came to a lot of the same realizations as the ones I am going to share, but I want to be able to look back on this in months, or even years to come, and remember the things that seem so clear to me in this present moment.

On Wednesday, my parents (in Trinidad) emailed me to let me know that a huge storm was going to be passing over New York, and at that point, I hadn’t heard anything about it, so I started asking around, and while everyone I asked had heard about it, most were not worried. I think the overall collective feeling was that we had been warned about Irene last year, and “nothing really happened,” so this was probably going to be much of the same. I was in LA for Irene, but I remember talking to my friends who were in NY, and I remember them telling me that, as usual, the media had hyped things up way more than what actually ended up happening.

By Saturday, my parents were really worried though, and after many failed attempts at getting me on the phone, they finally got through to me and told me that they thought I should evacuate. I laughed. I said that they were crazy, and that this wasn’t going to be a big deal, and I told them to stop watching the news because it always makes things seem worse than what they actually are. I put the feelers out on Facebook just in case though, and called a few friends, but again, everyone seemed sure that it wasn’t going to be a big deal. I told my parents that I was staying put, and they told me that I was taking it all way too lightly. I was certain they were completely over-reacting.

I went to see a show on Saturday night, had an amazing time, and was coming home in the early hours of the morning, but I don’t know what made me ask the cab driver to drop me off at Duane Reade instead of taking me home. I guess some sort of instinct kicked in, and I went in and bought the basic supplies that my parents kept urging me to get (water, a flashlight, bread, peanut butter, cereal, and milk).

I went to bed that night, and was supposed to be speaking at a charity event the following day in Westchester, but after finding out that the trains were being shut down, I thought against it because I didn’t want to get stuck out there. Instead, I went back to Duane Reade to get a few more things just in case my parents were right. By then, they were sold out of flashlights, bread, milk, and peanut butter (good thing I randomly decided to get them the night before), but I got two of the last few candles, and a few more snacks. One thing I’ve learned over the past couple of days is that storms make you eat. A lot. Junk food mainly… (Or at least it did for me!)

I spent Sunday night in anticipatory excitement for the most part. I had no idea what to expect, but there definitely was a “calm before the storm” feeling in the air. The streets were already starting to empty out, and everyone who I spoke to seemed to be in good spirits. I caught up with my closest friends in NY. We check in with each other every few days or so on a regular basis, but from time to time, with some of them, weeks, or even months can go by before we are able to have a proper catch up session. I spent almost the entire day on the phone on Sunday though, talking to the majority of the closest people in my life, and was happy to have been given the day to just relax.

Sunday night, I decided to watch a movie, and chose ‘Waking Life,’ because although I’ve seen it before, and it’s one of my favorite movies, I hadn’t seen it in about 5 years, and I knew it was the perfect movie to make me think. I could write a whole other blog post on that movie and what I got out of it on Sunday night, but needless to say, it turned into a night of intense reflection and growth. My analytical senses were heightened, and I was taken on a journey of self reflection and discovery. I couldn’t have asked for a more eye-opening night.

The next day (yesterday), I woke up and already had a ton of missed calls and text messages from concerned family and friends. I spent the earlier part of the day on the phone and the internet, letting everyone know I was ok, and thanking them for their thoughts and prayers. The abundance of love coming from all over the world was heart warming. I heard from some people who I hadn’t heard from in a while, but it was so nice to know that so many people were thinking about us during this uncertain time. My parents were still checking on me every couple of hours, but I assured them that I was ok, and that they didn’t have to worry.

Around 4pm, the winds really started to pick up, and some of the stronger ones were so forceful that I felt my whole apartment shaking back and forth from the gusts. The lights started to flicker on and off at that point too, but I kept everything charged, in case I ended up losing power. The worse part of the storm hit me around 7pm, and that was the first time I started to think about what I would do if I had to get out for whatever reason. It’s funny what you think about in those moments. When I started to wonder what I would grab if I had the time to, after thinking of things like my phone and computer, the only other things that really matter to me are the things that hold all of my memories. Things like my journals, and books were I have written all of my songs, or photo albums and childhood memories that I have in little trinket boxes. As much as it would have been awful to lose anything material, all of those things can be replaced over time, but for me, the things that hold my memories are the only things that are irreplaceable.

I tried calling my parents again, but the phone lines were down, so I stayed calm and assured myself that the worst part of the storm would be passing over soon. One of my best friends who is on her honeymoon in Europe called me at that moment, and hearing her voice brought me back to a place of peace. After the call, I found a channel on TV that wasn’t covering the storm, and decided to just keep my mind off of it for the remainder of whatever was to come. Sometimes watching all of the devastation can make things worse than they need to be, so rather than submerging myself in the collective fear, I chose to shut off from it, and focus my energies elsewhere.

Thankfully, the winds started to die down within the next few hours, and just before midnight, when the power had stopped flickering on and off, I assumed that I was one of the fortunate ones who didn’t end up losing anything. I turned back on the news at that point, and like everyone else, I watched the coverage of the devastation that had happened all around me. All of us in NYC had been checking in on each other throughout the day, and after hearing about the Con Edison power plant explosion on 14th Street, I made sure to check in with friends who lived in that area, as well as everyone below 39th street who lost power.

It took a while for some to respond, but as of today, it seems like everyone is alright, and the majority are only having to deal with the loss of power, and water in some cases.

I couldn’t sleep last night, mainly because of the energy that I think at times I can be overly sensitive to, but also because I spoke to one of my friends on the West Coast until about 530am, talking about the many things we often talk about, life, music, God, society, etc, etc. I shared my experiences of the past couple of days, and became inspired to write them down. My mom called me at 6am in a panic, because she saw the fires in Queens on the news, so she immediately thought they could be near me. They weren’t, thank God, and I assured her again that I was ok, and that I was pretty sure that the worst of it was behind us.

While that may be true, the aftermath of the storm is not going to be quickly or easily dealt with. As I am sure everyone is aware, the subway systems are going to be down for at least a few days, and from some of the reports I’ve heard on the news, and read on Facebook, it may take up to a week or more for Con Edison to restore power to all of those who lost it. Parts of New Jersey were hit even worse than New York, and the flooding in lower Manhattan, and in some of the subway stations is astounding. The MTA said that this is the worst disaster they have ever seen happen in New York since the subway system was established over 100 years ago. I live in Astoria, and rely on public transportation to get into the city, so my plans for the next few days will definitely have to be adjusted accordingly. Those without any power or water are dealing with more difficult circumstances, so it remains to be seen how people will get back on track now that the storm has caused so much disruption.

One thing is for sure though, we WILL get back on track! New Yorkers are some of the most resilient people I have ever met. I moved here a month after September 11th, 2001, and remember the sound of the sirens and helicopters constantly flying overhead all too vividly. Although everyone still carried the memory of what had happened just a month before, I immediately fell in love with this city and it’s people (or the people it attracts) because of their ability to get up and keep going after they have been knocked down. In July, 2003, we experienced the infamous “black out” together, and I will never forget begging a cab driver to take me downtown to pick up my best friend at the time who lived on Wall Street, and was stranded in absolute darkness. It was beyond eerie driving through Times Square in total darkness that night, and getting to Wall Street where it was completely desolate and entirely in darkness. We rode back uptown in the cab together though, and got back to my then neighborhood on 73rd and Broadway, and the vibrancy in the air was intoxicating. People were sitting out on their stoops, drinking, and playing cards by candlelight. We ended up having an amazing night, fell asleep at some point, and by the time we woke up the next day, the power had been restored. During all of this storm madness, I texted her to tell her that it reminded me of the blackout, and she said that she was just telling that same story as well! Moments like these are the moments that unite us, and bond us together through memories for eternity.

My heart is broken for all of the families who lost their loved ones, or their homes during this powerful disaster. Over the past few days, I haven’t had much strength to do anything other than sit on my couch and watch what’s going on, or sleep, eat, talk to people, and reflect. I have offered my home to my many friends who don’t have electricity or water, but getting over the bridge to Astoria isn’t the easiest thing to do when trains aren’t running and cabs are in such high demand.

Getting love and blessings from my E.P.I.C. family in Tanzania has been so humbling and touching, because, as a friend of mine said, having no electricity, gas, food or water is a state of emergency to us, but to the majority of the world, those things are part of everyday life. Sometimes it takes a disaster or emergency to remind us how blessed we are to have access to these things on a regular basis, and in simplifying our lives and needs, sometimes we are brought to a greater clarity about what really matters.

For me, I am beyond thankful for the love and support that I have received from my family and friends around the globe, and I have been reminded not to take anything for granted. Nothing in this life is promised, and while we often want to feel like we are in control of things, all it took was a little heavy wind and rain to show us that there are stronger forces at work that, like it or not, we have to submit to at times. God is forever working for our greater good though, so even though these next few weeks (and for some people, months or years), may be hard to get ourselves back to where we were before Sandy swept over us, we need to remember that maintaining a positive attitude, and helping others wherever we can is what is going to get us through this difficult time.

Tomorrow offers hope and promise, and I am so thankful for the forced opportunity to stop, sit still, and reassess what matters most to me in life. Moments like those are never wasted. Thanks again to all of you for your prayers and love, and thanks to Sandy for another wake-up call on this ever-winding journey of life.