A Modern Tragedy

It was a dark and stormy night. While the first “dark and stormy night” may have been conjured up by the English Victorian novelist, playwright, and politician Sir Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton and has since become synonymous with the Victorian melodramatic style, for many people in the New York tri-state area, those very words aptly describe the night of October 29th when Hurricane Sandy made landfall in southern New Jersey.

While I only vaguely remember Hurricane Gloria from the 1980s—I got a week off from school and walked outside into clear and calm conditions when the eye of the storm passed overhead—Sandy was an entirely different story. For me on Long Island, Sandy really got going late in the day and the full brunt of it wasn’t really felt until after the sun had fallen. And then, under the cover of darkness, the storm picked up steam. Winds howled, sounding like a freight train was thundering through the neighborhood. There were bright bursts of light as transformers exploded and then plunged one neighborhood after another into darkness. I could see an orange glow in the distance and knew there were fires burning.

The storm continued to rage through the night—and a sleepless one at that—and it wasn’t until morning that the full extent of the storm damage was realized. Downed trees and power lines in my neighborhood made any kind of travel treacherous at best. But it was those communities closer to the shore that took a real beating. Storm surge, coupled with high tides and a full moon, flooded streets and houses making them unlivable.

But it is in these moments of extreme stress where the true character of a person is revealed, bringing out the very best and the very worst of people. I don’t want to dwell on the negative—the looting, the fights over gas shortages, the shortened tempers—but instead on how communities and people came together for the greater good. There are examples all over New York and New Jersey of people doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

Take for instance, the New York Daily News, which had offices in lower Manhattan’s flooded evacuation zone and a printing plant across the river in a powerless Jersey City, NJ. The paper managed to continue printing every day since the storm with help from its rivals: The New York Times, Newsday, Newark Star-Ledger, Bergen Record, and Hartford Courant. Each printed copies of the tabloid daily and some of the company’s other commercial printing work while it waited for power to be restored. The Associated Press and Jewish Week offered office space and technological help.

The Daily News had just finished printing Tuesday’s edition on Monday night when the power went out, but the treacherous driving conditions meant distribution was limited. On Tuesday and Wednesday night, with no power in its printing plant, the Daily News had to rely on friends with printing presses.

It’s been more than two weeks since the storm and many communities are still picking up the pieces, but it’s the stories of bravery, kindness, compassion, and humanity that get me choked up every time. I just hope I am able to show the same grace, dignity, and self-sacrificing spirit that so many in my area have shown to those in need.