The Effects of a Storm, an Ocean Away

mind the gap

Zack, watching Hurricane Irene from Times Square My landlord woke me up with a phone call on Monday morning. “Are your friends and family okay?” he asked. “I heard about everything on the news, and I was so worried.” It’s the first question off any of my new London friends’ tongues when they see me, and the first question of any stranger when I first tell them where I’m from. Is everyone okay? Is my old apartment okay? Is New York okay?

My answers are, in order, yes, yes and I don’t know. The first two are easy: almost everyone I know in New York lived mostly out of harm's way. A few of my friends have had to walk or bike to work; some have had to go without showers or use candles to light their way. My old apartment, nestled safely in Midtown, never even lost power or water. The last question is the worst and the hardest for me to answer, both because I have no information and because I hate that I have no information. I don’t know how New York is, because, while I identify as a New Yorker to everyone I meet in Europe, while I compare everything I encounter here ceaselessly to the world I knew and loved back there, while many of my friends and family are still in the place I consider home, I am not. I am in London.

I’m not jealous of those in New York, and it should be said plainly and clearly that I absolutely wish Sandy hadn’t hit the East Coast and Caribbean. I wish it was a repeat of last year in New York City, where we ventured out into Times Square in the middle of Hurricane Irene and took pictures in the typically overrun with tourists hub that was now deserted (I, of course, also wish Irene had never negatively impacted the areas outside of New York that bore the brunt of the storm). But there’s something to be said for the ache you feel when something happens to your home and you can’t be there. You want to stand up for it. You want to experience things with it, so it doesn’t have to go it alone. I don’t fool myself to think I know what New Yorkers are going through right now, but there’s a part of me that wishes I was there for it. New Yorkers, I believe, are at their best in the face of adversity, and I feel a pang in my chest when I read Facebook updates about candlelit sleepovers or charging parties or the Exodus like group walking over the Brooklyn Bridge together. I want to change things there---I want to help, desperately, beyond the Red Cross donations and options from afar---but that’s not the whole story. I want to be there because I feel it---the city, the people in it---would change me.

And while my heart goes out to everyone affected by the storm, New York will be okay, with or without me. And I will be okay, with or without it. But it’s moments like these you realize that it doesn’t take a hurricane to create ripples strong enough to be felt even across an ocean.