Tuesday, November 20, 2012

After the Storm

“After every storm, there’s a rainbow.”  

I admit it. I was one of those people who totally bought into quotes like that one. Blame it on the rainbow. When I was in my teens I almost had a car accident pulling over on a busy street so I could stop and take a picture of one that was reaching across the highway. And I’ve spent many an afternoon singing over and over again that song The Rainbow Connection with Kermit the frog. (well… Kermit sings. My voice comes out more like a croak – and I can’t believe I’ve admitted this on my blog). And those books with rainbow-after-storm themes are among my all time favorites (Isn’t that what middle grade books are all about?) 

But a lot has happened since my last post. I’ve learned all about the nature of storms – both emotional ones and hurricanes. Within a 48-hour period, there was a death in my family and there was Sandy.  Where I live on the Jersey shore, Sandy hit hard. It hit hard on Long Island, where I grew up too. 

So now I know…the storm is only the beginning of the story. The rainbow would be the end. But there’s a whole lot that happens in the middle that I had no idea about. And that's the part that seems to go on forever. It’s the middle part that tests you, that makes you question everything.   

So far, here’s what I’ve learned about what happens after the storm: 

     There are tears.

     There is destruction.

     There is mud. It is not the gushy soft stuff that you wiggled your toes in when you were a child or the luxurious goo that spas use. It is a dirty mud, It is relentless, unforgiving and everywhere.

     There are hugs. Lots of hugs.

     There is awe...At the sheer power of nature...At the finality of death... Of the surreal quality of it all.
     There are new ways to say hello. Even strangers on line at the supermarket greet each other with a “how’d you do?” After Sandy, that means “do you have heat?” “Was your house flooded?” “Are you homeless?”

     There is confusion and frustration. And resolutions. 

     There is tedium. The cleaning up part is slow and hard, a Sisyphean task. Every day people gather up the insides of their houses (the walls, ruined moldy possessions, refrigerators, appliances etc) and place them in huge piles near the street. As soon as the piles are taken away, they take another wall down, gather up more moldy possessions and make more piles. Grief has a similar pattern. It nags at you while you drink your coffee, then goes away, only to come back in flashes and waves.

     There is a yearning for ordinary things now gone: A day my Dad and I spent sailing in the Great South Bay. That roller coaster in Seaside that I always meant to ride. That beach on Long Island where I spent my high school summers.

     There is bravery in unexpected places. There is resilience. And I could write an entire blog post about kindness – simple gestures and huge acts of generosity from both strangers and friends.

     But even speaking metaphorically, I wouldn’t quite call the bravery, the resilience or even the kindness a “rainbow”. As for real ones, I’ve stopped looking up in the sky for them. I am not in the mood. If one did appear, its carefree lightness would seem trite and not appropriate.

     There is time, though. Time to rebuild, time to gather those you love and to be thankful that you are together, time to share a meal and to celebrate thanksgiving.  This year, it will be a different type of holiday- maybe more meaningful than ones in the past.

     Did I mention there is mud?

(the picture is a pre-Sandy rainbow over Barnegat Bay)