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.

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