Returning from a trip to New York City that coincided with Hurricane Sandy, I’m reflecting on the closeup view it gave me of human resiliency. And some of the most inspiring figures for me were, not surprisingly, women. As a result, I’ve learned some things from viewing others surviving Hurricane Sandy in style and other lessons in inner beauty.
Upper East Side sanctuary
The Upper East Side, where I stay, was largely spared Sandy’s worst behaviour, if not the anxiety she also left in her wake. The day before the storm, my husband and I visited four different local grocery stores with lines out the door, as people stocked up on provisions, before giving up and buying some nonperishable food items at a drugstore.
The day Sandy hit, our neighbourhood was eerily quiet with most offices, stores and schools closed and people bunkered in. During a midday walk, I got an inkling of Sandy’s power at an intersection where the wind gusts were breathtaking and actually made several mini “tornadoes” of spiraling leaves blown violently in its path.
It wasn’t until news reports came in of the devastation in New Jersey, Staten Island, Long Island and Queens, and the tragic loss of life, that Sandy’s true destructiveness came clear.
The next night at our fave New York Mexican restaurant, Maz Mezcal, my husband and I met a couple who were “refugees” from Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood (located south of 34th Street, it was part of the power outage).
As strange as it seemed to be drinking margaritas in the wake of tragedy, the restaurant was jammed, as people appeared to need to be around other people and have some normalcy. The couple had ventured uptown to a friend’s apartment to charge their devices and take showers, a ritual that became very common during the storm week.
Three days after the storm, we left for a weekend in Miami, on one of the first flights out of LaGuardia Airport after it reopened (it had been closed due to flooding). It seemed trivial to take this trip while so many were suffering, but it was for a long-planned celebration for a milestone birthday of my husband’s friend Patrick.
Being in Florida felt surreal: the brilliant, sunny skies and pastels of South Beach such a contrast to the grey gloom of post-Sandy New York City. But even more than a thousand miles away, in a place known for sun and fun, Hurricane Sandy was in the air.
While our friend’s birthday guests were glammed up to celebrate the man of honour, it was striking to hear how many had been hurt by the storm. A friend had just returned with her husband from living in Hong Kong for three years, and wasn’t even sure if their new apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, or their items in storage, had survived. Another woman, a ringer for Sela Ward, almost mentioned as an aside that Sandy had washed away her car.
I was struck at how these women still got on a plane and put on their best clothes to celebrate a dear friend. But that’s what so many women do when times get tough: they put on their lip gloss and keep it together for those around them.
After the weekend, and a week after the storm, we returned to New York. Our cab driver from the airport told us his home in New Jersey was still without power and his little boys were constantly cold. Gas shortages and fear of possible further damage from an upcoming nor’easter storm fed the atmosphere of widespread anxiety.
But even while stories circulated of people fighting each other in gas lines or siphoning gas from tanks, human generosity appeared in places known more for self-indulgence. Bloomingdale’s, for example, allowed people to charge their phones in-store, Bliss spa donated blankets to storm victims, and various bars collected donations.
Last Thursday, the New York Times Styles section ran a story on the lengths some people and their stylists went to in order to keep hair appointments during the storm shutdown. It reported that a stylist from the Sally Hershberger salon in the meatpacking district even turned his Upper West Side apartment into a beauty pop-up to cut clients’ hair while downtown was still in the dark. When I first read the piece I thought, Really, what you care about when some people’s lives are literally underwater is getting your bangs trimmed? But upon reflection, my thoughts shifted. I realized our beauty and grooming rituals are as much about helping us feel in control of our lives as they are about esthetic benefits.
More than two weeks after Hurricane Sandy, over 80,000 people remain without heat or electricity. In addition to the more than 100 people who lost their lives, entire communities have been destroyed and are looking at a long road ahead to rebuild. And while those with means can buy themselves comforts while their lives get back on track, the poor must stand in relief lines for food and water.
As news stories do, this one will soon move off the front page. If you want to keep those who are suffering in focus, consider a donation to the Red Cross.