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Cheryl Saban Ph.D.

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The Best We Can Be

Posted: 10/31/2012 9:22 am

Things are in recovery mode today. Some buses are active, and many businesses are open. The UN is still closed, but the US Mission has reopened, and I'm going back to work. But everywhere there is evidence that Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in New York City. The Frankenstorm lived up to its name -- it was truly a monster. High winds, flying debris, downed power-lines, high tides, flooding -- this storm packed it all. The most devastating result of this hybrid super-storm was the tragic loss of life. Though there were numerous advance warnings, hundreds of evacuations, and a mad dash to stock up on emergency supplies, the intensity of this storm took most of us by surprise.

People were literally flooded out of their homes. The wind ripped the siding off of houses, and tore trees out of the ground. I was one of the lucky ones -- my apartment building never lost power, but much of lower Manhattan went dark, and the subways and many of the tunnels were flooded. My family and friends on the West coast were understandably freaked out -- watching the play-by-play on the news -- they had no sense of my proximity to the crane swinging precariously on top of the sky-rise, or the water rushing over the railings in Battery Park. I was several blocks from both of these major crises centers, but still, they worried.

As a temporary transplant from the West coast where a change of seasons amounts to nothing more dramatic than a few rainy days, weathering this storm has revealed a great deal about New York and the people who live here, that I feel compelled to share. I suspect that when one speaks of mass power outages in a large city, there could be concern about security issues. And I suppose there could have been some of that. But I didn't see it. From my vantage point, all I observed was that this storm brought out the very best in people. From the kids in my apartment building who brought in friends who'd lost power, to the shopkeepers who welcomed people in to use their electrical plugs to charge their cell phones.

The resiliency of the human spirit is astonishing. Though the wind howled and whipped around the streets like invisible speed racers, making umbrellas difficult if not useless, there were always people on the streets, a few taxis, and a couple of stores open. As soon as the weather calmed down, I was among the many curious individuals who ventured out to get some fresh air and assess the damage of the neighborhood. A block from my building, in the local Duane Reade store, there were perhaps a dozen people sitting on the floor near electrical plugs with their cell phones plugged into their chargers. These folks migrated here from a few blocks away, where power outages had occurred. Their shoes were wet, and they looked as if they'd been through a rough night, but they weren't particularly unhappy. Instead they were chatting, huddled on the floor in pairs, charging their phones, munching on snacks. Other people were patiently waiting in long lines to buy whatever convenience foods remained on the shelves. Everywhere people were friendly.

As I walked along the street, I began noticing people sitting on the sidewalk with their cell phones plugged into their chargers in outside plugs. I believe it's the first time I've ever noticed an outside plug allocated for public use like that, and it occurred to me that this is a great idea -- a great emergency plan for any city. I wondered if Mayor Bloomberg himself put this in place, or if city planners had thought about this long ago. Whoever came up with this idea should get an award, because this was making life a lot easier now -- when so many people are out of power, with no place to go, on a windy, rainy, stormy day, with a need to be in contact with those they loved.

This "New York Emergency Mode" extended to the shopkeepers too. I noticed that the people working in the stores that were open, were doing their best to be upbeat and helpful. People everywhere were behaving like a community. To me, if felt like New York has it together. The entire city felt like it was working as a team. I don't even live here full time, but I felt proud of all the people who were elected to do the most important jobs in this city, in this state -- in fact, in this country. Mayor Bloomberg didn't fail to warn this city early and regularly of the dangers of this storm. He asked people to evacuate -- he did so often, and urgently. I felt proud of Governor Cuomo too, and of Governor Christie, of New Jersey. As a regular citizen who watched TV nonstop for information and answers, I felt these men were doing their jobs masterfully, and I appreciated it. I also appreciate the Police and Fire Department, and other emergency personnel. I'm living on the 15th floor of a building, and I heard the wail of sirens all day, and on and off through the night. Though I dreaded them because I feared they signaled more injury and damage, I also welcomed them because I knew the police and the fire department, and other emergency services were nearby, and responding. It gave me a feeling of comfort.

I'm also proud of President Obama. He was, quintessentially presidential, which is what we want our President to be. He responded immediately when asked by the State of New York to assure them the Federal aid they'd need to handle this disaster.

I observed the best in people during this storm. And now, as I look up at the sky, and see the clouds parting, and patches of blue sky, I am grateful I was here to witness this.

I offer my condolences to the families of those who perished, for there is no greater loss, than the loss of a loved one. I'm sure those closest to these families will try to comfort them during this most difficult time, because that is what friends do.

Beyond that, I'm beginning to think this behavior is part of the ethos of this extended community. I can now say from experience, that if you have to weather a horrific storm, you will be well looked after if you happen to be in New York City.

 

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