I spent most of the day after Hurricane Sandy feeling annoyed.
As we all know by now, Sandy had much less than the predicted impact on Vermont. In the area where I live, she had almost no impact at all: a rainy night. No power loss, no flooding, and we’ve gotten more downed tree limbs from summer thunderstorms. Shortly after we woke up on the morning after, the sun broke through, the clouds cleared, and the temperatures soared to an unseasonably warm 66 degrees.
And on that glorious day, my two oldest girls had no preschool. They had no preschool because the prudent school district had declared all schools closed on the previous afternoon. (This during a week when they already had a day off of school for parent conferences).
So I spent part of the day cursing the Addison Central Supervisory Union for caring about the well-being of my children, and leaving me with three children under the age of 5 on a day when I would otherwise have been running multiple errands with a single child.
I spent another part of the day cursing Middlebury College, which had not released my husband from work. Middlebury was more tentative than the school district, cancelling classes and activities on the evening of Sandy’s expected arrival, but keeping a regular schedule the following day until further notice. There was no further notice, of course.
So, unexpectedly, I had three children at home with no husband to help out, and I felt very annoyed.
I was also annoyed with our house. Guess what flooded our basement that same morning? Not torrential hurricane rains: our new puppy. Our new puppy who, while tussling near the house with the neighbors’ puppy, brushed up against an outside water spigot. The water ran all morning without my noticing, trickling through a window well and down to the basement.
Once the water was turned off and my daughters were napping, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful day by…raking leaves. A questionable decision, since I can think of few jobs that are more brutally thankless than raking leaves. Five minutes in, I was annoyed again. WHY do we live among all these TREES? This is making no difference AT ALL. Where am I going to PUT all these leaves? It was then that I stepped in a hidden pile of dog droppings that one of our “best friends” had deposited under the leaves.
Disgruntled, I returned indoors, plopped in front of my computer, and opened up Facebook for a little mindless diversion.
What I found on Facebook was far from mindless: updates from friends along the East Coast who’d lost power, who’d spent hours listening to the winds howl, who had seriously flooded basements. Reports of rescues, deaths, newborns evacuated from NYU Hospital, no power for a week. One friend’s parents had narrowly escaped her childhood home in the Rockaways, which was subsequently destroyed. My own parents, in the D.C. suburbs, lost electricity for over 36 hours.
As I sat before that glowing screen, I realized that I’d spent the day being annoyed by the very things for which I should be thankful. In states of emergency, most people pare their concerns down to two things: loved ones, and shelter. My loved ones were safe. My children were with me. My husband wasn’t home because he had a job. And my house, however soggy and leaf-strewn, was still standing.
I felt like the most shallow, selfish person who ever lived.
I tend to think of myself as fairly compassionate, but I suspect that we’re all, at our deepest cores, selfish and shallow. Our immediate concern in most situations is with how they affect US. The day after Sandy devastated the East Coast, I was mildly inconvenienced, and for a while, that was all I could see.
It requires stopping for a moment and looking a little further than the tips of our noses, to realize that most of the things we take for granted – things we may even grumble about – are in fact things to be thankful for: blessings. Maybe that happens in the form of a natural disaster; I’ve seen some amazing, simply grateful reactions from the people hardest hit by Sandy. Maybe it happens in the form of a Facebook break. Or maybe it happens in the form of a holiday, like Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving, I hope to spend less time feeling annoyed, and more time feeling genuinely thankful: for my family, for our house, that Sandy was merciful to Vermont. And while I’m looking past the tip of my own nose, I suppose I might also consider how to help those who don’t have as much for which to be thankful.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, three young daughters, one adorable puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.