Over the past week, as we attempt to return to normal after Sandy, the term that recurs most often in conversation with friends and colleagues is "9/11," as in, "Remember after 9/11, when we..." or "People were more eager to volunteer after 9/11."
It is not that anyone is equating the two (three, if you count the snowstorm) events. Despite the New York Post headline proclaiming that "God Hates Us," I don't think a sane person would argue that we were singled out for an attack this time around. But the sense of devastation and disorientation is similar.
Even those of us who did not lose loved ones, and whose homes were not damaged, are feeling anxious and displaced. Friends complain of being unable to get back into their usual routines, of losing track of time.
Yesterday, as we sat in our down coats in an unheated classroom, a classmate who is usually eloquent and self-possessed burst into tears while tripping over herself trying to make a point.
I was uncharacteristically upset when a friend canceled dinner plans at the last minute because his apartment still didn't have heat and he was giving up and moving in with a relative upstate for the duration. I didn't realize until later that what was really disturbing me was a sense that nothing is certain; that everything can change suddenly.
Ben and I are both somatizers. He caught a flu that debilitated him for several days. I found myself experiencing stomach pains and vague malaise. We could not easily get to our doctor, because the subway was down and taxis were scarce, so we waited out our illnesses. He made a complete recovery; I learned, when I finally made it in to the doctor, that I had an abscess that had gone systemic in the interim. I'm on heavy doses of antibiotics and doing better, but these occurrences added to the general feeling of fragility. And this morning, I was late to work because I absentmindedly got on the wrong subway.
These are small inconveniences compared to what so many of our friends and neighbors have undergone. But I have thought, as we strive to get back to our routines, that this is actually life as usual for much of the world, and that I am unusually privileged to have experienced this relatively minor level of disruption only twice in my life so far.