A week ago today, many of us on the East Coast were already in line at the gas station, fueling up in anticipation of what eventually would become Superstorm Sandy. Memories of last year's October storm and its devastion loomed large in our minds, and we shuddered at the thought of many days and nights without power, property damage and environmental wreckage.
Sandy arrived on Monday, October 29, and I am deeply grateful to have been spared her wrath. Others in my state, particularly along the coastline, were not nearly as fortunate. The news has provided continuous coverage all week of the utter destruction Sandy left in her wake, particularly along the eastern seaboard.
An old friend of mine lost her home, out of which she runs her healing practice. She took only three items with her, aside from some clothes, when she evacuated her apartment that looked out at the sea. The items were neither large nor costly, but were dear to her heart. She is still reeling with grief and shock from what greeted her when she returned to her home on Tuesday and found it uninhabitable. Yet in the long days and nights since, as she has done the physically and emotionally grueling work of cleaning out the skeletal remains of her residence, her grace and gratitude have been unwavering. She has kept us updated with periodic posts to Facebook, and in each, she speaks with sincere gratitude for the years during which she lived happily and humbly by her beloved ocean, for her health and safety and that of her neighbors, for the power and mystery of Nature, and for the Home that lives in her heart, not in the material possessions she lost.
More than once, her messages and the stories on the news have brought me to tears. The pictures leave me agog, unable to fully process what it might feel like to stand in front of or amid the rubble that was once one's sanctuary. I think of what we build our lives upon, our attachments and dependencies, and it boggles my mind that in an instant, it can all be washed or blown or burned away. My heart aches for the people who are suffering, who have been wounded or died, and those who are faced with the task of beginning again, from the ground up.
It can be so frightening, both the idea and the reality of impermanance. How quickly our fragility and vulnerabilities can be laid bare. How quickly any one of us, despite whatever trappings we do or do not have, can find ourselves small and shivering in a great big world that suddenly makes no sense.
I think, too, of the satellite images of Sandy that filled our TV screens in the days leading up to and through the storm. I imagine that the Earth's grief is so immense that it filled a cloud nearly a thousand miles wide. I think of Sandy as an anguished mother, betrayed by children who have become lost to her, and whose heartbreak rained and howled with abandon in hopes of maybe, finally, getting our attention.
And it seems to me that our grief and her grief are still largely separate. My sense is that for the most part, we do not see what we have lost, are losing and have yet to lose, as intimately and intrinsically bound to her. Her wailing is becoming louder and more frequent, her tears more voluminous, and yet, we have not paused to listen, to hear, to heed the fullness of what is being conveyed to us. The weather is still "out there." "Mother Nature" is a colloquialism for some external set of circumstances that we have not yet fully figured out how to defend against, control, master. We have forgotten how to live in alliance with her.
I am in no way trying to diminish the loss and grief that is being borne and suffered by hundreds of thousands of people. I am suggesting that our grief is incomplete if we view it as belonging solely to us, as something that happened solely to us, without considering that this storm (and Alfred, Irene, Katrina and others before it) is indicative of a larger, systemic breakdown -- and that our losses are collective, impacting not just humans, but the system - the entirety of the planet - itself.
We can devise innovations or enhancements to the nation's infrastructure; we can build bigger levees and storm-resistant cell towers and continue to evolve our early storm detection systems. These things may be necessary, as it seems that the occurance of "unprecedented" storms continues to grow with frightening speed. And we can begin, perhaps, to ask ourselves the bigger questions about what might really be going on here, and what we are willing to give back or go without, to help mitigate the escalation -- if there is still time to do so.
If we experienced in our individual bodies wave after wave of increasingly virulent infection, most of us would want to understand the root cause. What in the system might be lacking, or occuring in excess, to tip the scales toward such aberrations? We might employ technology to help diagnose, and medicine to treat the symptoms, but without understanding the root cause, it would be difficult to restore our mind/body/spirit system to its natural state of balance. Or it might be too late. In that case, we might be forced to muddle through with a variety of band-aids that ease our suffering, but which allow the illness or disease to percolate beneath the surface, laying dormant or in wait to strike again. We might be forced to live lives diminished of their full potential and vibrancy because we have failed to attend to something unseen, but vital.
As I type this, sun is streaming into the living room through the bay window. It is a cold, crisp November day in New England. Sandy has blown almost all the remaining leaves off the trees and the hills in the distance stand out in bold relief against the clear blue sky. Everything looks normal.
It is not normal, of course, for the thousands on the Connecticut shoreline, or in lower Manhattan or New Jersey, who are sifting through what remains of their lives before Sandy, who wait for help, or for power to be restored.
And it is not normal, of course, for the Earth, whose bounty we continue to plunder without giving back anything but waste, pollution and the remains of our greed.
In the run up to the election that will take place three days from now, we have seen and heard the views of the candidates regarding the environment, and what they will or will not do to help ensure that it remains viable long after we are gone. We have seen and heard what the environment is saying about our choices up to this point. I will continue to pray that we make choices in favor of a sustainable life for all beings for generations to come; that we can be selfless and aware enough to recognize the bigger agenda that is before us - not just as we cast our votes or determine how to move forward in the aftermath of Sandy, but as we move through our days and nights as beneficiaries and stewards of this planet and all it has to offer.