By Saturday afternoon the good people of Monmouth County had already begun preparations for Hurricane Sandy. My day however progressed as any normal Saturday and I went about my errands in complete oblivion to the magnitude of what was coming our way. My awareness was piqued only when I tried to drive down my street but became trapped in gridlock created by cars waiting in line for gas at the local Wawa. The line was 10 cars deep at every entrance and snaked all the way down the road. It reminded me of gas shortage of the 1970s.
The traffic light ahead turned green 7 times without me moving an inch. While I waited, I glanced at my own gas gauge. I only had a quarter of a tank but before I could fully process the consequence of that, I noticed that the vehicle ahead moved forward several feet and created an opening that I could wedge my car through. I was free and on my way and didn’t give it another thought until later that afternoon when I went to the grocery store.
At our local Foodtown a parking space was nearly impossible to find and there was not one shopping cart to be had. I walked into the store took one look at the mayhem and walked right out. I went back home and relaxed. Later that afternoon, I spoke with my brother who used to live in Sea Bright – a coastal New Jersey town which floods with every storm and would be evacuated as of Sunday afternoon. He inquired about what I was doing in preparation for the storm – nothing really.
It then struck me; I hadn’t so much as watched one news channel all day. The one time that I did turn on the television, I got sucked into watching the movie Bull Durham which has always been on my list of movies to see. I’m usually such a focused individual but in preparation for an emergency, I seem to be so easily distracted.
I then began to think about my actions and my behavior during other events of emergency. On September 11th with a backdrop of collapsing buildings and mass hysteria, I went back to my office and worked. When dust from the rubble started to seep into my office, I realized, that it was time to go. On my way out I stopped in front of a television that was broadcasting the earlier scenes of the towers burning and people from within jumping off into certain death. At that moment I felt a punch in the gut followed by a flash of heat and outpouring of sweat. It was really time to go.
One year later the entire eastern seaboard experienced a power outage. Again I was at work at the time. Many were still skittish from the events of 9-11 and were unnerved by the blackout as the cause was at first unknown. Fear of another terrorist attack was looming and people were scared so they fled the buildings and the city as quickly as they could. I however stayed calm. I directed my coworkers towards safety and then headed out myself. I was one of the last to leave.
It is clear to me when I look back and analyze my behavior during these events that I under-react. But what would be interesting for me to understand is the reason why my reaction is always so tepid. It’s not like I believe that I immune from tragedy as I am well aware that bad things can happen and that they can happen to me. Yet that doesn’t scare me into any sense of urgency.
Cognizant of my new self-discovery, I woke up this morning and made a conscious effort to participate in the hysteria of hurricane preparation. At 6:30 this morning I got out of bed, got dressed and went to Wawa to fill my car with gas. I then went to the ATM and withdrew a wad of cash and then to the grocery store to stock up with more food than I could eat in a month. But somehow going through the motions doesn’t give me any more peace of mind.
On my way home, I passed a church and decided to stop in. Mass was currently underway so I quietly knelt down and said a prayer. A feeling of calm came over me and knew that all was going to be well. At that very moment I received the clarity I was looking for. I know understood why I under-react.