The Hurricane and the Death of “Here”

August 29, 2011 at 11:48 am (By Amba)

Trying to find out what might have happened to a friend’s house near the water in Westport, CT (I first Googled “Irene Westport” and frustratingly got a list of residents named Irene), I came upon this in a news item about a man stranded on foot just before the hurricane:

It was in Westport that he saw more police officers drive by without asking what he was doing than anywhere else. “I’m just really surprised that no one offered to help me,” he said Sunday. “I know people are really distrusting these days. But you think people are coming together, looking out for each other. No one even asked: Where are you going in the rain?”

This struck me because it matched up with my experience in very different Greenwich Village.  I’d had a fantasy that the hurricane would bring the people in my little building together.  The scattering of old-timers who’d welcomed me back so warmly and the more transient young people who exchange friendly “Hi!”s at the mailbox would check up on each other, make sure we all had what we needed, make a plan to join forces and even party if the power went out.

None of it happened.  Mind you, I didn’t try to make it happen, either.  I mostly sat back and waited and observed.  Would the young people show any concern for the old loners?  Would any of the old-timers welcome the excuse to reconnect? I did check up on my neighbor just below me, a likewise one-year-widowed Irish musician (don’t cry for him, he reportedly already has a girlfriend, an eventuality his dying wife blessed, and is doing well).  He was alone but said he had everything he needed and shooed me out pretty quickly, maybe absorbed in something on TV.  Throughout the hurricane there was not a knock on the door or a voice in the hallway.  (Of course, some had gone away.)

By contrast, enormous caring and concern was expressed by my (and no doubt by everyone’s) social “cloud,” via Facebook, e-mail, and phone.

So here we sit, in adjacent cubicles, wired in to our far-flung, nebulous networks, with physical presence and proximity meaning next to nothing.  Only if the power had actually gone out would we have been forced into each other’s company.  What’s this all about??  I find it creepy.

UPDATE:  In another CT news item, an old man trying to get to a shelter couldn’t, as they say, get arrested:

The retired Bridgeport carpenter woke up in his Isinglass Road home to a power outage that included his phone, so he tried a different way of calling for help.

“I couldn’t call out,” Belus said, “so I got a couple of big pots and pans that I was banging on to signal for help, but I live deep in the woods.” […]

Belus said that he finally drove his car up to the head of his driveway and got out. His initial gestures for help failed as motorists sped by without stopping.

Finally someone pulled over and called local emergency personnel. Belus was driven to the shelter in his Buick by a Shelton firefighter, emerging from the vehicle with his cane and a box of medications.

Meanwhile, I am very concerned to hear from Karen, since Vermont reportedly was hard hit by wind. Karen, I’m sure you have a lot on your hands, and possibly no power, but give us a report when you can.  Did all the cows, calves, and horses weather the storm?  Did your neighbors look out for each other?


  1. Tim (formerly Theo Boehm) said,

    I, too, am very concerned about Karen and her family and farm. The flooding in Vermont has been horrific. Several of the tourist spots we frequent in southern Vermont have been hit hard, such as Simon Pearce in Quechee and a farm near Woodstock where we often buy cheese, that seems to have been basically washed away. I heard on the news this morning that four historic covered bridges have been destroyed, and pictures from around the state otherwise have not been encouraging.

    Upcountry New England and New York took the brunt of this storm. I’ve seen pictures of houses and other buildings in the Catskills washed away, and heard stories from friends worried about relatives in the Hudson Valley who are still completely unreachable. Those of us in metro Boston and NYC rode out something basically no worse than a bad nor’easter, with local flooding, downed trees, power out, etc. But people not in well-drained and paved urban areas are in much worse shape.

    So, let’s hope we hear from Karen as soon as she can climb back on this nebulous cloud and wave to her friends, now that the sun in shining and other clouds no longer threaten.

  2. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    The news from Vermont so far is stunning. My friends in Stowe who ran the karate training had 7 feet of water in the basement of their dojo. Lost all the equipment and everything they had down there. The venue where one of their daughters was to get married next weekend is under water. Vermont??!!

  3. Courtney H. said,

    I agree with you, Annie. We’ve become too comfortable with our techno toys and are forgetting how to relate and connect with people. Our street kept power on our side of the street (thank goodness) but lost for blocks on the opposite side. If anyone had come over, I might have helped them in some small way, but it didn’t happen. They know I’m not sure-footed, so am unlikely to come to their side. If nothing else, I could have offered some of my frozen water bottles to use for cooling on the 90+ day after the storm. I’m going to try to do my part in the future to be more proactive when I see an opportunity. It’s all we can do, and it’s worth it. (By the way, those people still don’t have power – Monday night after the storm.)

  4. Rod said,

    I am not sure it is that creepy. The Internet brings people of similar interests together. Neighbors have something (location) in common, but they otherwise have different interests. The kind of neighborhood in which I grew up, with block parties and kids in common, heavily informed by gossip, hardly exists anymore. In some ways we know more about each other at Ambiance, with whom we discuss our ideas, than we do about our neighbors.

  5. amba12 said,

    I guess I feel it more because I am alone. If I had a companion for the hurricane (not to knock my cats, of course), I might not have cared, or even noticed.

  6. joared said,

    Hope you hear good news of your friend, Karen, in Vermont. I recall a delightful driving trip through those states many years ago. Not sure if it was Vermont, or New Hampshire, but I remember a delightful restaurant at an intersection next to a calm fast-flowing river. We later drove across that river on a swinging bridge that at its center dipped into the water. A little further down the road we encountered a covered bridge and, I believe, some other covered bridges later, unless my memory has mixed those with some later portion of trip. I can well imagine flooding in that area would be quite disastrous.

    Socialization here in my So Cal city has changed significantly since I first moved here over thirty years ago. New, younger people have moved in and most are much more remote from one another. I’ve welcomed all newcomers as was the pattern here, but unless I initiate a hand wave when we’re outdoors, no such gesture is forthcoming except from a couple neighbors — the two gay guys next door have been most solicitous. Our neighborhood was always more interactive and especially if emergency vehicles appeared at someone’s house any time of the day or night. What has changed in people? I wondered if it might be that I’m older now and they fear being drawn into “looking out” for me, but they don’t interact with other households either.

  7. karen said,

    I’m here, amba and all my good friends. Flooding up in our corner was not anything we couldn’t handle, but Lyndonville, H2Obury, Stowe and just about everywhere else was hammered. Our animals all weathered well. The cornfields you drove through, amba– were all under H2O and our road washed out on the other side, too.

    “The kind of neighborhood in which I grew up, with block parties and kids in common, heavily informed by gossip, hardly exists anymore. In some ways we know more about each other at Ambiance, with whom we discuss our ideas, than we do about our neighbors.”

    That is why i feel able to tell you here that yesterday, we may have avoided hurricane damage, but my husband’s youngest brother took his life. Yesterday was a devastation of something we in our little house have yet to wrap our minds around. We both are numb, yet.

    Please pray…

  8. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Oh Karen . . . crying and praying.

  9. Melinda said,

    Karen, glad you’re here and that your home and farm made it through safely!

    So sorry about your brother-in-law. Tragic at any time, and even more so on top of this crisis.

  10. Icepick said,

    Karen, I don’t know what to say.


  11. kngfish said,

    Karen…my heart goes out to you and your family.

  12. Tom Strong said,

    Karen, so sorry to hear it. I hope he’s found peace, and I hope you and your husband do too.

  13. Donna B. said,

    Karen… I am so sorry for what your husband and you are going through right now.

  14. Tim (formerly Theo Boehm) said,

    Karen, Please accept my sincerest condolences, and know that you and your family are in our prayers.

  15. karen said,

    Thank you all so much. I am very worried for my husband– as we are currently estranged from his folks due to circumstances not of our making. The next few days are going to be hell– 33yrs old and loved by all.

    I, too, hope he is at peace because he was tormented by circumstances in his life, too. I wish so much that his choice had been to just walk away from that whom caused him distress, anguish. Instead, this…

  16. karen said,

    Not to say that we don’t all have our crosses– i guess he couldn’t bear his anymore and failed to see the many hearts and hands willing to help him. There is no answer.

  17. Randy said,

    Oh, Karen, I am so sorry to read about your brother-in-law. As you say, “There is no answer,” but the self-doubt and questioning unintentionally left behind will hurt all the same.

    Sending condolences to you and Alan, and your families, seems so inadequate at this tremendously sad and difficult time.

    Glad to hear you weathered the storm well. Looks like the towns along route 100(?) were the hardest hit and most are still unreachable. We went through few of those. Plymouth is a special memory – home of Calvin Coolidge, such a beautiful setting surrounded as it is by the mountains, the cheese factory, the old general store, and the old-fashioned cafe which had a decent lunch as I recall. Hope it is still standing.

  18. Rod said,

    Karen: I join those who offer you sympathy. It seems so inadequate, but it is what we have to share. Glad to hear you survived the storm.

  19. mockturtle said,

    Me, too, Karen! :-)

  20. LouiseM said,

    Karen, I join those who are holding you in their hearts and offer you my deepest sympathy.

    As you and your husband experience the pain of this loss and face again the intense sorrow and hurt that accompanies the living hell of estrangement and brokenness, I pray for the goodness of Grace, Truth, Mercy and Peace to be real and present in and around you.

  21. karen said,


    I thought that the hardest part was going to be the wake. Even though, unexpectedly and by the wishes of my MinLaw- it was open casket, we did surprisingly well as a family.. His two daughters(his littlest was absent)… that was a deal breaker that tore our hearts, but we made it home w/a semblance of normalcy.

    The culture of today is so skewed as to be void of much decency in regards to actions/consequences and compassion. This sad story is exactly the image of the sentence above in terms of my dear brother(in-law)’s life and relationship w/his wife. Not his fault/all his fault…

    The funeral(if one thinks like this) was so beautiful. The Traditions of Catholicism: the incense, the prayers, the rituals, the music… connected this tragic burial back to the times of 2000yrs and does give us(this family/myself)hope of Mercy and life eternal. Skeptics abound, but this is our belief.

    We survived yesterday, too.

    Now, we just look at each other w/heavy and moist eyes. We know the really hard part, the part we thought we had already faced, is before us. I suppose this feeling is as old as life itself. I wonder why we don’t have some genetic mutation engrained somewhere in our being to prevent the helplessness we feel- that it would have been bred out of our nature along the evolutionary way. I think our tears water new growth in our hearts and souls, too. Drawing us to physically seek comfort of each other. The strength of one holding up the other who is held up by another forms a chain of support. As long as the last guy in line keeps his footing, no one really falls.

    To us, this last guy is God.

    When i come to this blog, i find such acceptance and joy in being able to express myself. You(all) challenge my ~boxes~ of thought, feed my brain and plant seeds of new ideas. You share your lives and you give comfort. A big part of my chain of support.

    I can’t thank you enough.

  22. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Holding you in my arms and heart.

    I’m about to set foot in your state again, but very briefly, for a wedding.

  23. karen said,

    It’s going to be raining for a few days, i hear. I hope the sun shines for the wedding, it’s such a beautiful time of yr.

  24. LouiseM said,


    One of the writers I’ve appreciated from your tradition who offers empathy and awareness regarding the loss and helplessness involved with the death of a loved one by suicide is Fr. Ron Rolheiser. I’m not from this tradition, but he is who I again turned to for affirmation and awareness in my attempt to sort through my own feelings and response after reading about the “hurricane” of loss you experienced this week. His views are considered to be out of the box by some, but I find them comforting and centering. I realize reading may not be where you are at or what you need right now, but I’ll put the link here as one form of support for times when the skew and void seem very great.

  25. karen said,

    Louise, i’ve just bookmarked that page for future study. Thank you.

  26. “Hurricane Irene and the Death of ‘Here’” – My Blog said,

    […] the title of this interesting slice of life from the Hurricane Irene experience by Annie […]

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