Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Flooding in Binghamton, Part IV

September 11, 2011:
The fellowship of friends.

On a day when our city was still underwater, relevant and happening now, the world retreated to 10 years past, a day no one can ever forget. I know where I was and everything that happened the moment I first saw the news. It is forever etched into me like grooves on vinyl. I can close my eyes and replay it enough on my own. I do not ever wish to watch it again. For me, today, my emotions are too raw, and we’re still in this current disaster.
Instead it was a morning of finding out what roads were open and what areas were still underwater, to see if we could get to a last minute gathering of friends to barbecue chicken salvaged from a home that miraculously missed the flood by a couple of houses. It had lost power and the meat wouldn’t keep.
I was weary and feeling vulnerable, but needed the comfort of friends. I needed the touch of people I loved. We are humans and we are meant to touch one another. It’s a language that we do not often make use of. We isolate our bodies as if we are each islands in an ocean, with so much space between us. For days I have existed on a physical island, cut off from the world by real water. And I needed those bridges back. I needed to see my friends and see their safety.
And, after two days eating tuna on crackers, chicken sounded really good. Just before we left, a storm rolled in and I cried. I did. The sound of the rain was too much, too soon, and I immediately found myself uncertain of leaving home. So I made myself, and was glad I did.
The company was a mix of exhausted, grateful, heartbroken, empty, hopeful and open people but the common thread was presence and sincerity. Gratitude. There is an openness in people who have faced a great change. Some may be overwhelmed by despair, some may hold on by staying in motion, but it is the moment where they stand together just before everything alters that connects them.
My city is connected because this flood happened to us. My county is connected because this event happened here. Those who live on the Chenango River and the Susquehanna River are all connected, because we are at their mercies. It’s not personal, it’s Mother Nature. Maybe the lesson we’re supposed to take away from a flood is bigger than the obvious ones of detachment from material things. These disasters throw us back into our bodies, pulling us forcibly out of the routine day-to-day factory world we live in and push us back into being alive.
I had gone for companionship and was unaware at how closed in my body was for a while. Taking a breath, I leaned over and put my head on my friend’s shoulder. And the shell I had built that was my fear of being flooded finally broke. I was able to stop myself from sobbing but I sat there, touching, and having gratitude that everyone I loved was all right.
In a way, it’s an interesting juxtaposition. In 2001 my partner and I had just moved to this city. We knew no one. Had a friend not called from Boston to ask us if we were okay (he thought we were much closer to NYC) we might not have known. We might not have connected the television up in time to see the second plane hit, to watch it as it was happening. We might not have spent 24 hours at the table, just the two of us, isolated from our loved ones by miles, watching the bodies fall.
This year found me experiencing that same wave of helplessness at the grief and loss of so many people’s sense of home and stability. Feeling useless in a city that needs help is much better done in a room of friends. I know people who have lost. I can’t help but think if I lost everything, what would I miss? From that perspective, I realize I have much more than I need.
It is important that those who were spared help take up the excess for those who were devastated and I am watching it happen. I am helping it happen. I have watched passersby stepping in to help carry loads to the curbside. I have been one of them, talking to more neighbors in the last few days than I have in ten years. I have heard that community folk are helping local businesses clean up, bringing offerings of food and water where they are not as physically able.
We’re taking care of each other. We will take care of each other.

Flood Gratitude
            I have gratitude that my little family was all in one place during the flood. That my partner was able to get home before roads and bridges were closed. I have gratitude for hands to hold and shoulders to lean on. For friends who delivered cat litter to us when we realized we didn’t have any. Everyone I know is safe.
            I have gratitude for water we collected before the river flooded. I have so much gratitude for water I can drink. I have gratitude for gas that allows me to boil water before drinking it. I have gratitude for power that flickered but didn’t die, that allows me to keep in touch with loved ones far away and assure them of our safety.
            I am grateful the river has crested and that the waters are retreating. I am grateful for the brief rains that have washed the hazardous materials away and cleansed the vegetation drowning in mud. I am grateful for a landlord who made us a priority though he was evacuated from his home. I am grateful for the sump pump and the end to the flash flood warnings.
            I am grateful to the emergency crews who worked through the heavy rain and the flooding to safeguard the city and evacuate people, tolerating and understanding the energies of scared and panicked residents. I am grateful to the internet and news for offering up-to-date and as-it-was-happening reports. I am grateful that we had enough food. I am mostly grateful that I have plenty of unneeded belongings that will allow me to share with those who are now without.

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