Hurricane Sandy and the Illusion of Control

Ten days ago, I went to see the memorial at Ground Zero, a visit that wound you around and through the construction zones for the skyscrapers that will replace the old World Trade Center complex.  The entire site was an inspiring reminder of the indomitable spirit of the American people who refuse to be cowed by a small group of terrorists.  Five days later, Ground Zero was underwater. 

That same afternoon, I paid a visit to Community Access, a few blocks south of Ground Zero.  Community Access is a non-profit agency that provides housing and support services to 1,600 low-income New Yorkers who suffer from mental illness and/or HIV/AIDS.  Having worked there in the late 1990’s, I was thrilled to learn they had been featured as a “success story” in the New York Times only two weeks earlier.  Today, more than 400 of their clients struggle to get meals because the kitchens in several of their housing units were destroyed by Sandy.

Both were up-close and personal reminders of how little control any of us have over our daily lives. You work hard … you do the right thing … then, pouf, something—illness, accidents, weather—makes a mockery of all your plans. 

Yes, the water has been pumped out of Ground Zero.  Yes, hundreds of people brought food and cooked meals to residents of Community Access.  Even so, it is hard, sitting here today, to find a silver lining in Sandy’s cloud.   It is hard, looking at the damage Sandy has wrought, to find the joy in “learning to love living out of control.”

The lesson I hang onto, as I think about Sandy’s destruction, is that real and personal growth only happens when you are forced to confront the unexpected, forced to step outside of your comfort zone.  But I have to ask myself how easy it would be to hang on to that notion if Sandy had destroyed my kitchen or left my house under 28 feet of water. 

I wish I knew the answer.


  1. A.D.Trosper says

    A good post.

  2. Sandy left me shaken. I had some damage, had to throw out lots of food, but I’m glad to have my power back, Now I worry that the nor’easter coming our way on Wed. will take it once again. I’ve very little gas, not enough to visit my husband in the hospital these next few days. My heart goes out to people who’ve lost their homes and cars, and others who are still without electricity.

    • Marilyn .. I thought I had replied, but I don’t see it anywhere. I hope your husband is doing well and you have all your power and heat back!

  3. I’m from the Caribbean that’s constantly ravaged by hurricanes. I can still remember one of the worst ones to ever hit Jamaica – when I was 4-1/2 years old. I remember my entire family of five and my youngest brother’s nanny (he was 6 weeks old) cowering under the dining table as the hurricane took the roof of our house. And then the rush to the neighbor’s house during the eye of the storm, losing my pajama bottoms and watching them swirl away in adult knee-high water. And I remember the awful sound of a hurricane. Too often we forget we’re inhabitants of a planet with forces we can never control.

  4. Mary — perfect reflections! We go5t our power back yesterday, and our TV/INternet/Phones just about an hour ago. It was somehow refreshing at first, as we got used to living without the connections, but eventually it added its own stresses. Stil… a little time watching a fire and drinking a glass of wine in a silent house is good for the soul, isn’t it?

  5. Thanks Richard …. I am firm believer that being outside your comfort zone is a source of growth … it certainly has been for me most of my life …. but there are things like Sandy that test my faith. BTW .. checked your website and loved your blog on Tweeting (another subject on which I am ambivalent) … will respond on your site in the next day or two.

  6. “forecasting damages in the range of $2 billion to $100 billion” Isn’t that the same thing as saying we aren’t sure how much damage there will be.