In Essays

It only takes me 4 days with no power and heat to see violence in a whole new way.

I don’t participate in any. Or even consider it, not really. But I feel it bubble up inside me, the call of an ancient ancestor, my effective friend.

It rises up in me when I see all the outlets in the mall in use, the ones who got there first jealously guarding them and the 4 devices they’ve plugged in. It bubbles up in me as I see the mayhem of gas lines just a few days after my home state of New Jersey got hit by Hurricane Sandy, things running out bit by bit. It screams at me when I see my fellow humans’ baser instincts, taking up two parking spots when space is at a premium, cutting lines with impunity and without remorse.

I am angry.

More than that, I am scared.

Being a human in my time and place is fairly devoid of life and death logistical details. Even the fall-out from this hurricane falls squarely in the camp of “annoyances” and far away from any true calamity, for me. I have been luckier than many. My loved ones are fine, my comfortable home still secure, if without heat and light. I am fine, all is well.

And yet it is this sense of closing options that makes me feel cornered, makes me wonder who I’d be if survival were really on the line. I had been comfortable with my armchair ideals, the easy choices of someone who has been untested. I’ve had sedentary convictions about fairness, and doing unto others. I’ve considered hardship sport, looking for the thought of discomfort in my books and – more rarely – my entertainment, looking for obstacles where real ones didn’t exist. I ran mud runs and read post-apocalyptic novels. For fun. I have white collar problems.

So when I feel a raging anger against the guy taking up two spots, leaving me with none, standing between me and the public library outlet where I’ll charge my iPhone which is currently at 10%, I wonder how I’d feel about the guy who scooped my game, or worse, stole it. The person who took the last of my firewood, or kicked me out of my tent at a refugee camp. Or messed with my kids. Who would I be under those circumstances?

Perhaps most troubling is how I feel about my friends. Not the others who roam my town’s streets, fellow suburban refugees, looking for water and day-old bread. The other ones. The ones posting on Facebook about happy things, silly political nonsense, sales, sunsets, oblivious to my pain. The one who suffered her own tragedy a few months ago that she bellyaches about on Facebook constantly, but who has not offered a single message of comfort for our wounded region, posting instead about some silly hacking problem. The ones who send emails about pointless things (Like this brand! Meeting!) while I try to figure out my next meal, my stash of food quickly dwindling. I have no right to wish for their mundane lives to stop while mine is ground to a halt, but there you have it. That is one of my baser instincts. It is so easy to understand how quickly it becomes “us” against “them,” the ones who understands vs. the ones that don’t. My friends make me furious, the way they go on caring about the silly things, while I am uncomfortable and unhappy. And they are oblivious.

My anger is mine, and it will dissipate with a hot bath and a toasty bed, a kitchen filled with the smell of cooking. I willbecome reasonable again, and will stop snapping at the slightest provocation, stop seeing my fellow humans as competitors for dwindling resources. I will laugh at my hurricane stories, remember how lucky I was to escape so unscathed.

But life’s experiences are meant to smooth our rough edges, so that hopefully a few lessons from this experience will remain. Perhaps I’ll learn to think more about how my words might touch others while they’re hurting. Perhaps I’ll remember that it’s easy to hold on to high ideals in easy times, but our true test is during trying times.

But first I will sit in my warm bed in my pajamas, grateful for bad reality tv and thinking about all the silly things I wish I could care about now.

PS- this was written on my iPhone as I charge it at the public library. Yes, I got the spot after I yelled at the guy to move up and make room. I’ll be better soon. And thanks all who have been so sweet about checking in. I’m not talking about you. And, if I am, it’s me, not you. I just needed to vent. Thanks for reading.

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maria andreuA Dear John to the Port Authority by Maria E. Andreu