It's the first Sunday in Hoboken after Hurricane Sandy. The streets are just beginning to fill with residents stepping out to see if they can shop, meet, jog and do anything resembling a normal Sunday afternoon.
But it is no normal Sunday afternoon. The supermarkets are half full. There is rice, pasta, some fruit and whatever else doesn't need ice. The National Guard is here. Young enthusiastic men and women wearing the bright blue FEMA tops are walking about in groups. A church group of youthful volunteers is gathered in green shirts outside City Hall, and on another street corner some company people, from a realtor, are cooking hot dogs and hamburgers. They have some water bottles on their table.
Some friends and I briefly texted this morning. We all have young children. Power is back on in our building. We were just checking in with each other for reassurance. Can we go home? Our brief exile, evacuating however we could from the onslaught of a natural disaster, seems over. For those who stayed, they braved almost a week with no power, filled with increasing cold and desperate lack of supplies in a town reeling from emergency, after emergency, after emergency.
There is work being done to repair our flooded train station and recoup our underground artery to New York City. We don't yet know how long it will take, but it is understood that transportation will not be what it once was for a while. The gas shortages signify that reality immediately, this very weekend, as people peer out from the residue of the destruction.
America usually sings a mantra of "getting back to normal" as soon as disaster hits. We hurry back to the humming roar of the American marketplace. It was sung after 9/11. We were urged to quickly get back to work and then we were off to war.
We tried yet this week to sing the American mantra again after Hurricane Sandy. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg did his utmost to sustain this very American ethos by, no matter the circumstances, trying to hold the annual New York City marathon today. He could not succeed, and his decision to cancel was only superficially political. Really, it was because the marathon could not have happened.
My sons have a school friend whose father is a fireman in Staten Island. He has been busy this week pulling bodies out from the floodwaters of Staten Island and Brooklyn. With Hurricane Sandy, there is no war to rally around, no particular enemy to pinpoint, that allows us the energizing ability to rush back to normal. We have been visited upon by the universe itself, egalitarian in attack and relentless in its frightening amassing of natural weaponry, like wind and water. We have no response but silence and the attempt to walk again in our streets on a Sunday in the face of unspeakable mystery; the kind of mystery that drives humankind to faith and science and awe and ultimately, in the foxhole, to prayer.
On Wednesday afternoon, the day after the full ravage of Hurricane Sandy became quickly evident, my almost 6-year-old twin sons, Rafi and Ari, each clutched one of my hands as we walked more than half a mile toward the one remaining functioning pier in Hoboken. My building had just told me to get out if I could since power was down, water running out, and the National Guard and FEMA were coming.
Rafi and Ari saw the Ferry from a block and a half away. They each simultaneously got a glint in their eye. Ari asked me with a grin, "Daddy, do you think we can make it? Rafi began to sing a favorite song he made up, "Don't you know, you can do it if you try."
The three of us ran fast and laughing. We made that boat out of Hoboken. Ari said, "You see what you can do if you try?" Rafi kept on singing his mantra, one that explains to all of us how to actually do the work of getting back to normal.
The hope springing forth in that run for the Ferry, a leap of faith in its way, has been the stuff of our survival this week. I learned to pray from my sons last Wednesday afternoon.