Just over a year ago, I went for a walk out in the bright autumn sunshine to survey the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Though the fall colors were still vivid, the trees’ angles were all wrong. Trees should be vertical, yet most tilted; many lay horizontal—a fall against the road having crushed someone’s wrought iron fence. The horror of it was breathtaking: all these magnificent sycamores and sugar maples and oaks, felled overnight to be sliced up and carted away in chunks.
Today, as I drive my son to school, what I notice most about the trees that still stand are the colors themselves. What is breathtaking is the way they’ve burst into fiery reds and oranges, gold against the sparkling sunlight. Life, they tell us—the seasonal cycle of our corner of the planet—continues. And just because it is the anniversary of that natural disaster, when lives were lost as well as trees, doesn’t mean the survivors won’t put on their annual splendor.
A year ago, I had just learned that my house had been mostly consumed by a fire. I was trying to keep my children calm and recreate some new normal for them, while my husband dealt with the insurance company and the fire department, and we both searched for a place to live.
We were not alone. Countless others in the region had their homes destroyed by winds and floods, as well as some fires. Schools were closed for days. Most everyone had lost power. Even those whose homes were unscathed had to regroup as the rest of us figured out how to rebuild our lives.
We have been among the lucky ones. Our insurance was sound. Fire, I’m told, is insured more easily and completely than flood or wind damage. There were three categories of coverage: non-use, which meant our rent was covered, when we found a temporary home—contents, which referred to everything that was lost that we’d need to replace—and lastly, construction, which meant the costs of fire/smoke remediation (which was extensive) as well as rebuilding and renovating.
The good news is that one year, less one day following our fire, we moved back home. My children slept in their old-new rooms in their new beds. Our home was beautiful to me before, though nothing had been changed or renovated since it was built in 1958, but now, renewed and polished, redecorated, with the gracious aid of our friend Gina (and do check out her site, By Design Interiors) it kind of blows me away.
Here is the dining room before:
And here it is today:
The leaves are falling outside, but for us, it is the season of renewal.
On the eve of our homecoming, while I was shuttling our belongings from the rental to our “real” house, I had a moment of identity confusion, similar to what happened when I first saw the effects of the fire: where am I? where do I belong? Oh, yes, here. Home. For real.
There are so many still displaced by the hurricane. Still homeless, still being shuffled from shelter to hotel and back again. I listen to their stories on NPR while chauffeuring my kids around. I know all those other mothers want for their kids what I wanted—what I have—for mine. Normalcy. Space to breathe and play, somewhere to put the donated items they’ve received during the course of the year. This year we’ve been recipients of generosity but we’ve also done what we could to give back, making donations to the Red Cross and other organizations that help hurricane survivors, including those in Haiti (even harder hit than we were). But we can’t give these families what they need most: Permanence. I now have an inkling of what it’s like to crave that.
Sometimes I think, what did I do to deserve to survive this so easily? Of course the answer is nothing. We have amazing friends; there aren’t enough words to express our gratitude. We have good insurance. As I said, we are lucky. And lately I fall asleep at night with this phrase on my lips: Thank you.