some thoughts after irene

so here i sit, amidst all my disaster kits and supplies still packed and ready, processing what just happened. it was unprecedented for this region. people here are lackadaisical about natural disasters in general, which normally happen to other people, not them. they tend to think of themselves as entitled and above the laws of nature or any other limit to their convenience. now, after two unusual events in a row, an earthquake and a hurricane, some folks may be readjusting their attitudes, and some are just whining their way back to normal complacency. personally, i don’t believe any officials overreacted just to compensate for prior deficiencies. this event could have been a whole lot more devastating if major systems hadn’t been shut down ahead. power and transportation will get restored when it’s safe for workers to deal with the dangerous conditions. people here need to learn to prioritize and deal with reality and get over themselves. also they should not go swimming in flooded streets with downed live power lines, just because they can. some common sense and patience would go a long way, around here.

meanwhile, i’ve been reminded once again how fragile and unpredictable life is. lying awake, the wind howling, fully expecting a giant tree to land on me any second, not knowing if we’d have to evacuate, not an experience i want to repeat regularly. it did force me to focus on disaster preparedness more thoroughly. just trying to assemble the most essential household documents under stress was challenging. i have my work cut out for me. the emergency kits, first aid, water, food, bedding, meds, clothing, and other supplies and precautions took some time to get reorganized and ready. the challenging part was not knowing if we would have to scramble to evacuate to who-knows-where at a moment’s notice, or stay hunkered down. and for the most part, i was on my own with the burden of responsibility and decision-making. not a position i’m comfortable with or good at, no matter how much practice i get. and, just when things seemed to be winding down, then the power died, possibly for up to five days.

so, take-aways: first off, this time i won’t just dismantle and put things back as they were. i’ll keep my kits and files and supplies ready and assembled for ‘next time’. i’ll spend some time updating and completing them once and for all. you can never foresee every possible contingency, but the better prepared you are to meet it, the less time you spend stressing and worrying. also, an emergency is not the time to deliberate over which sentimental knickknacks you want to take with you, or which of all your essential possessions will be safer with you, or left behind. or where in or out of the house is the safest place to be. the bottom line is, ‘you can’t take it with you’. for example, some people in mandatory evacuation zones refused to leave their endangered homes because they were determined to hang onto what they had worked hard for their whole lives, even if it meant losing those lives. at some point, materialism and possessions are not worth being stupid and dying for. especially if you have dependents to protect.

next, no matter how many times i’m reminded never to get complacent or take privileges for granted, every time an emergency hits, i realize i’ve fallen back into that complacency. i’ve gotten so used to being connected, wired, and powered, that it’s like medieval times all over again as soon as the power goes. sure, i’ve got plenty of candles, flashlights, battery-operated gadgets, even a gas stove to heat water on. but as soon as i can’t get online, or my device batteries discharge, or i can’t turn on my stereo, i’m confronted once again with how we are all still just a couple of steps removed from the last century and beyond, and how dependent we’ve become on even basic technology. it’s harder and harder to go backwards. so again, probably a worthwhile exercise to go through once in a while.

finally, if you’re part of a society which emphasizes independence, self-sufficiency, and mobility, a disaster can really bring out a sense of isolation and aloneness. think of all the lonely old people stranded in high rises without power, even more disconnected then ever. even large families in suburbia can feel isolated and overwhelmed under normal circumstances, let alone in a crisis. and between those two extremes, here in my remote outpost, with people technically present, but for the most part disconnected from a community, i felt that sense of isolation, of being cut off, all the more during the hurricane. humans are social creatures, and usually do better in a crisis within the context of a close community or family, for mutual support and camaraderie. so many of us have lost that connection. in our obsession to become independent and non-reliant on others, ironically we often end up dependents of impersonal, artificial institutions, without family and friends around us, in the end.

all this, from just a minor hurricane! i hope i get a break before the next big opportunity for insights.

earthly sense

in between having not much to say, i often think about the subject ‘does everything happen for a reason or purpose?’. (i know, too much wasted time on my hands.) back when i thought i had some faith in some kind of intelligent design or mystical universal force or whatever, i could tell myself that all these bad things were happening on purpose, to teach me something, or accomplish an ultimate goal. i wish i could say i still believed that. it would make life so much simpler. well, ok, it would still be complicated and messy, but i could reassure myself that it’s not just a random accident or arbitrary chaos. it would eventually all work out for the good. justice would be done. sense could be made of it.

now i’m not so sure. the longer i live, the less sense i can make of the senseless, or imagine some logic or purpose in the utterly irrational. some things are just wrong or meaningless. no amount of theo-babble can make it right. the only principle that seems to hold true is that every action has a consequence. whether you call it karma, physics, psychology, or whatever, it seems to be a reliable universal law. it doesn’t explain why bad things happen to good people and all that, just how things have a ripple effect, and may come back around to you. i have definitely witnessed this principle in action.

so here’s the best i can do right now to explain or justify the ‘unfairness’ of the world: i can’t. we have little to no control over much of what happens to us. we can prepare for every contingency, and still be devastated. sometimes we can adjust our behavior or attitudes to modify future events, but even that can be easier said than done. mostly we just have to deal with what comes at us through no fault of our own. in the face of all this reason-less, senseless chaos, how does one keep going and not become resigned and cynical?

if there is no intelligent, just cause or design in the universe, then the only recourse is to superimpose your own sense onto random events, and make them be a catalyst for some good. for example (just to pull one out of the air!) here i am stuck in the very place i spent years escaping from in every sense, resigned to relentless monotony imposed upon me by the choices/lack thereof of others (my parents), with no future in sight. my attitude, rather than improving to meet the challenge, just deteriorates as time drones by. the waste of it all overwhelms me at times. i try to make the most of the enforced confinement, but mostly it feels like killing time, until it’s my turn to decompose. so how can this be viewed as a force for good?

i’ve often found, looking back at a series of unfortunate events, that even though it made no earthly sense at the time, if i hadn’t gone through that experience, something else vital would never have happened. like, i would never have had my son. or, i wouldn’t have been trained to cope with the next level of challenge. i would not have faced down and grown out of some entrenched issue which held me back. i would not have developed some empathy for others in similar situations. i would not have determined to be part of the shifting of a destructive human paradigm. i may never have been forced out of some old rut into eventually seeking some new and never-considered lifestyle change. i may have simply droned on and repeated the mistakes of the past.

instead, some seemingly random cosmic meatcleaver severed me from my status quo and disrupted life as i knew it. it’s another crossroads: i can either throw up my hands in despair and rage at ‘fate’ or the void or an imagined god of injustice and chaos, or—i can try to see the bigger picture, and how this episode may turn out to have been a vital fork in the stream, much as i didn’t ask for it or handle it well. the future may still look bleak and hopeless, but i won’t be the same person who first got thrown in the deep end. maybe i learned some more survival tactics, or swim maneuvers. maybe i saw my demons reflected back at me, and had to deal with them once and for all. maybe i’m not so quick to write off others dealing with their own ghosts and demons. maybe i learn to see things from other points of view, and acquire skills to pay forward. if nothing else, i have a whole new appreciation of the people and places i’ve been separated from, and how much the seemingly small act of listening to me rant and rave and work through all this, has meant to my sanity and survival. i won’t take those people for granted again, if i ever did. you know who you are.

conclusion: the reason or purpose is what you make it. it’s how evolution (of anything) takes place. shit happens, and you harness it for energy, or it crushes you into fragments, and keeps going. you can credit ,or blame, ‘god’ or a ‘higher power’ if that floats your boat (to keep the metaphor flowing), but barring a reasonable explanation for crap happening, all you can do with it is grow some metaphorical crops. otherwise it’s just sewage! (something the VOE is famous for!)