PASSAIC, NJ — It is long past midnight and I have just put all the pots and pans to bed, reluctantly setting up lots of plastic and paper goods for tomorrow. I like to live green in my kitchen, and never allow that stuff in, but with Hurricane Sandy, I have no choice.
The last few days have been a constant stream of neighbors, friends, clients, whomever, coming in for breakfast, dinner, to work “remotely,” or just to recharge their battery — literally and figuratively.
We have been part of the lucky ones: we have power, cars that weren’t destroyed by fallen trees, heat, and lots of fridge and freezer space.
But we are surrounded by many blocks, towns and neighborhoods that are in the dark, either flooded or cut off from the modern world.
Hurricane Sandy has made life harder for many people. Thinking about providing essentials for one’s family becomes a constant pre-occupation. Where will the family sleep tonight? (Hotels are packed or have no power. Friends and family also mostly have no power.)
Where will we get dinner? (Many food establishments also have no power, along with supermarkets.)
What to do with the children? (Many schools won’t be up and running until Monday.)
But thinking about essentials has also created a new, old fashioned way of thinking about relationships, food and community.
Now that we aren’t all plugged in every second, we can actually enjoy real face time. Children need to be more involved in the provisions department; and not just because it is a good lesson, but because wherever they are, they are part of a community forming, coming together to have a meal.
They are also not “bored,” because there are so many things they need to do to help a house (hotel?) like ours run.
And I’m not just talking about my children (the ones with power), but also the visiting ones who picked up a knife and cutting board in my kitchen and chopped away for dinner, because there was too much to do before all of the accounted and unaccounted dinner guests would show up.
The same goes for my neighbors’ children, helping others drag branches off of properties, pulling the trash to the curb, and generally helping the many dozens of people they are feeding or whose clothes they are laundering.
THE way G-d created Man, we were meant to be dependent on one another. Creating a meal used to involve the field, with many “working hands,” and the kitchen, with another set or three of “hands”; a constant reminder that we cannot take care of our most basic needs alone.
Getting to the end point of creating a meal required a lot of interaction that we have lost today. We send our children to cooking classes and demos, maybe even etiquette classes, all the skills that they would have learned in the past from parents, grandparents, neighbors, staying right in their own kitchens.
Yet, as Man has advanced, we have taken that essential ingredient out of human relations — the togetherness, the dependency— and moved further and further apart from one another.
We can constantly be connected, but rarely are connecting.
Our meals often originate in a box, with the only exchange of “hands” perhaps at the checkout counter, where we are busy answering a call or a text.
Without much prep time necessary (isn’t that what we are all after?), we share meager words at dinner while checking our devices, just to see if it is an “important” call, keeping all of those faces and relationships in front of us waiting for our time, our nurturing.
So while the weather has brought our electricity and movement to a grinding halt, it has introduced a new kind of connection. Neighbors with whom I haven’t had frequent contact are knocking on my door, hooking up their fridge to my outlets, loading the washing machine with their clothes.
I was at a large mall tonight (a teenager’s “emergency” run), and it turns out it was set up as a kind of shelter so that the restaurants could operate, the people could have somewhere warm to be and also could use all of their personal devices.
It was nice that the electrical provider created this hub, but there was everyone once again, looking at their screens. I couldn’t wait to get back to my kitchen, where I was going to be setting up for the next round of guests for breakfast.
WITH Hurricane Sandy our world wide web has really shrunk.
It is about the people whom you can actually have physical contact that you are spending time with.
It’s about the people that can walk to your house, the people who felt comfortable enough to call.
It’s about the strangers who realize how we humans are so vulnerable and that we need one another.
It’s about all the horizontal, night-time space us “powered ones” can provide to the less fortunate majority.
It is about the basic human need to provide and to be provided for.
Perhaps nature is G-d’s way of nudging us to humble ourselves, and realize that not only do we humans have limits, but that those limits are good for us.
Which kind of reminds me of Abraham opening up his tent to strangers from the great heat wave in Genesis. His tent had four openings, four different ways of coming in, perhaps for different people who would normally not walk together. Those strangers became guests at the same table, chewing on a portion of Abraham’s monotheistic pie.
They came in as strangers, but left with a piece of Judaism in their soul, bound together by Abraham’s universal message of G-d.
I don’t think anything quite that holy is happening around my table, but I do know that my family and I, along with our guests, have all been pushed a bit beyond our comfort zone, forcing us to think about family, relationships and community in a whole new way.
Something our old-fashioned ancestors knew about long ago.
Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News