100 years ago, a great floating city, the "Unsinkable" Titanic, filled up with ice-cold ocean water and sank. This week, my hometown, the great city by the sea, New York, was inundated by its own unprecedented flood of ocean water. As I write, the city's essential arteries - the subway tunnels, the underground power lines and steam pipes - remain flooded. The Titanic tragedy was a man-made calamity, exacerbated by perfect natural conditions (a moon-less night and calm sea). Hurricane Sandy was the ultimate natural disaster, a "perfect storm," totally transcending human control, although ameliorated by effective emergency planning and activist government at both local and federal levels.
Watching the images of disaster unfold on TV this week, one naturally worried about one's family and friends. So, during the storm itself, I called the Paulist Mother House in mid-town Manhattan - relatively unscathed compared to those in more exposed areas of the city or the Jersey coast. My relatives scattered throughout Westchester, Manhattan, Long Island, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost electric power, but are otherwise OK.
September 11 made New Yorkers acutely conscious of vulnerability and interdependence. This apocalypse, however, came not from an act of war but rather weather. One of the reasons we all like to talk about the weather and complain about it is because we can't control it. It's just there. At best, most of the time, we comfort ourselves by taking shelter from nature's fury. Hurricane Sandy has reminded us how ephemeral our shelters are, how vulnerable the structures we rely upon, how interconnected and dependent we are on one another, how helpless we are alone, how desperately we need government to keep us together and marshal our common resources for the common good.
Sandy's wind, rain, and snow continue to spread north and west and south. Even at this distance from the coast, we see snow in the Smoky Mountains and rain here in the valley. No one is immune from nature's terror. Guns don't defend us, and profits sink under the floods.