It's so easy not to be grateful for the things we take for granted.
Every night we go to bed, knowing that when we wake up, our world will still be the same because we are in charge. We own the place. We shape it the way we command it to be. Chaos has been tamed into perfect order. Life has become reassuringly predictable.
Our fridges are filled with fresh food. Clean water will come out of our faucets. Outlets provide us with a constant flow of energy. On cold days, central heating keeps us warm, and the roof over our head protects us against the dark forces of nature.
Until nature decides to teach us a cruel lesson.
Hurricane Sandy was such a lesson.
Why people have to learn their life lessons the hard way, I honestly don't know. Perhaps it is because we often learn more from the things that don't go as planned, as opposed to the things that go exactly as we imagined. Some things, however, we either can't imagine, or we refuse to accept the possibility that they could happen.... to us.
What I have learned is this: disasters do not discriminate.
Flash floods and hurricane winds will wash away the residences of the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the sick and the healthy, the liberal and the conservative, the Democrat and the Republican.
Nature doesn't care about our possessions, our monuments, our accomplishments, our basic needs or even our friends and family. Things that we believed to be certain for many years to come, are washed away in a matter of seconds. Cherished landmarks we built with pride, are crushed and erased in the middle of a stormy, moonlit night.
People panic as they are overpowered by a raging enemy beyond their control. Tall trees that have stood strong for decades, are uprooted in the blink of an eye, and plant themselves on roof tops, vehicles, power lines and on the kind man in his sixties who went outside for two fatal minutes, just to let his dogs out.
As you look at the images my neighborhood woke up to on Tuesday morning, Sandy was well on her way to torture new towns and destroy the dreams of other people.
Today, I count myself very lucky. All I lost was power. I had to live without electricity for a couple of days. I could not go on-line. Emails were left unanswered. Facebook was forgotten. Two nights without TV.
Meanwhile, the radio told me about beaches being washed away, neighborhoods being flooded, houses that were burning, people who were displaced and snowstorms making life practically impossible.
This is my neighborhood, but my car is not under that tree you see in the picture. My home is undamaged. My life is not in shatters. My loved ones are safe, and hard-working men from out of State cleared the roads and repaired the power lines.
I am grateful.
I am grateful for the friends and colleagues who have reached out to me, praying for my well-being. I am grateful for the first responders who risked their lives in the eye of the storm, the men and women who worked through the night coordinating the response to the crisis, and I am grateful for the many volunteers in the shelters.
I made new friends sitting on the floor at Barnes & Noble, as we recharged the batteries of our electronic devices, because the hurricane had left us powerless. We shared the stories of the storm and the stories of our life.
In a way it is ironic. When we have everything our heart desires, we think we don't need one another. Adversity, on the other hand, brings people together and turns strangers into friends.
Soon, for most of us life will be back to normal.
For many though, normal will never be the same.
Paul Strikwerda ©2012