We weren’t there when Irene hit in our home town. No damage, but also no power… for SIX DAYS. Unfortunately it meant that since we weren’t in town, my kids had to trek over to my house after the first 24 hours and retrieve two freezers-ful of food. Thank goodness they were able to do this for me, as I had a decent amount of chicken and meat that I had bought for the coming Yomim Tovim (Jewish holidays). Luckily my kids’ homes have power. I have no idea how they were able to make room for it all, since they have their own stuff to worry about. I really appreciate their efforts.
We were in Maine when Irene hit.
Frankly, it didn’t seem so bad to me. No major tree damage, no damage to the house, nor was there any flooding (we live on a hill and drainage is good). We’ve been through worse: the classic “nor’easter” storms that are quite similar to Irene, the difference being that they hit during winter and instead of loads of rain, we get ice and snow. The same 60 – 85 mph gusts of wind drop the temperatures well below zero. There was a power outage but we weren’t affected because we use solar power and are independent of the power company (“off the grid”). So Irene by comparison was a piece of cake to the usual winter storm. (Only 20 minutes away, however, bridges collapsed, roads washed out, and houses were carried away due to extreme flooding from surging rivers and streams and overflowing lakes and ponds.)
A few years ago we were very interested in a rustic cabin along a river that was for sale in Harts Location, New Hampshire. To reach it, you had to park your car on the side of the road and walk across a foot bridge, continuing on a trail a few hundred feet until you reached the cabin. Admittedly not too practical, but it was smack in the middle of Crawford Notch, one of the most gorgeous locations in the White Mountains, and the views and that river were entrancing. We put a bid on the property but lost out to an offer that had been accepted only minutes before our bid was submitted. Instead of thinking “gam zu l’tova” (this too, if for the best/it just wasn’t meant to be), I instead became consumed by regret. Truly, it was a once-in-a-lifetime property at an amazing price.
Thankfully, HaShem runs the world, and wants only the best for us. The area where my “dream property” was located was completely destroyed by Irene’s surge waters.
The very next morning post-Irene I ventured out, because my grandsons’ visit came to an end and I needed to get them to the airport in Manchester, New Hampshire, a three-hour drive away. Not knowing the conditions of the roads, I set out much earlier than necessary. Only a mile down the road, I saw five fire trucks and rescue vehicles. Around 5 a.m. that morning, a neighbor’s house had, tragically, burned to the ground. Fortunately he escaped with his life, although as of this writing the owner’s pets are still unaccounted for.
The powerfulness and the powerlessness at the scene was a shocking sight. The vulnerability of being in the wild, in the woods was all too clear. Our local fire and rescue is made up of skilled and hard-working volunteers, but however noble their efforts, the reality is that if one’s house is on fire, the likelihood is almost zero that it will be saved. The trucks’ water tanks, once emptied, must leave the scene of the fire to refill the water at the lake a few miles away. Because it’s an all-volunteer force, and no one stays or sleeps at the firehouse, it’s not always possible for firemen to respond immediately if they are otherwise preoccupied (ie many miles away at work, doing errands a few towns away, etc.)
Today (two days post-Irene) as I once again passed the site of the fire, the first thing that snapped into my mind was “Elul.” One is supposed to do a cheshbon nefesh, a spiritual accounting, for the entire Jewish month of Elul, which precedes Rosh HaShana. One uses Elul to hopefully identify and rectify past mistakes and think of ways one can lessen and improve one’s shortcomings. Seeing that destroyed house brought forth so many emotions. I felt pity for the owner, in his 60s. A lifetime of possessions and tangible memories were wiped out in a minute. All that is left is destruction and junk. How does one begin to start over? We may not be able to “fix” things to how they were before, but we can try to begin anew, even if it means living differently. ((A metaphor for tshuva/repentance?) The ability to pick up the pieces and go on with life is easier said than done, but it’s possible. We have so many examples on a grander scale from Jewish history and from our parents’ generation, especially those that survived the Holocaust.
So much of what we have is superfluous. Sometimes we have so much stuff that we don’t even know what we have, or what is important. Certainly when we die we can’t take our stuff with us (and woe to our children who have to clean out the years of accumulated flotsam and jetsam from our houses). The only thing we can take with us is our mitzvos, (our deeds). Our legacy is not our stuff; it’s our children, our grandchildren, and the positive consequences of our giving tzedaka, being kind to someone, etc. that is everlasting. Hopefully I can truly internalize and incorporate that message so I won’t have to learn it the hard way.