Hurricanes: Can hype and drama be a good thing?

Most people would say that Hurricane Irene came around at the worst time. Trips and weddings were canceled, weekends at the beach for what remains of summer bungled, and New Yorkers forced to hibernate in claustrophobic apartments.
After the deluge of Facebook statuses bemoaning the media hype and pointless fear it generated, it seems redundant to get into here. I was one of the people who paid no attention to it until Friday afternoon, when my mother texted me warnings: “Mayor close. Subway. bus. Please stock. up w necc. water. Flash lite. Trannsvradio.” (a sexually ambiguous transmission of sorts?) Mayor INSTRUCTIONS.” (I’m not sure what the periods are for…some kind of Morse code for Jewish Mothers, maybe?).
And then of course, “Go buy food  4 5 days.” (which could easily have been a text she forgot to hit “send” on from last week).  All of this was Mom setting the stage for what my father texted me a few hours later, “Why don’t I come pick you and the dog up and take you to N.J.?”
Jewish parents who don’t get to see their kids enough (is it ever enough?) love impending doom. Dad called Saturday morning and chuckling knowingly he said, “Something that worries us comes up….anything! And we say, ‘”Lets go see the kids!”
I declined their invitation, as generous and loving as it was. I didn’t want to deal with the transit mess and get stuck in N.J., nor did I want to worry about what was happening to my apartment while I was away. I wanted to embrace the forced downtime. After weeks of social engagements or weekends with friends at the beach (I know, poor me), I figured this would be a good time to read, draw, and pig out on the $200 worth of groceries (okay, Mom?) I’d never eat otherwise.
And who better to do this with than a very tall ex-boyfriend with a big appetite to help finish all that food, and with whom I knew I’d feel safe with?  Besides, he lives in an evacuation zone. It was the least I could do.
None of this was planned. We haven’t even been in close touch. But the timing presented itself, and I didn’t hesitate for a moment.
It made me wonder whether the hurricane and all the drama that came along with it can serve to bring our needs into sharp focus.
A hurricane, a terror attack, or any dramatic event makes us pause. It creates a need to connect, and forces us to consider certain feelings and the questions that come with the acknowledgement of those feelings:  Who is in my inner circle?  What do I need to survive? Who do I draw comfort and safety from, rather than who is “filler”?
I wasn’t trying to fill a void of fear or loneliness. If that was the agenda, I guess I could have mustered up a few people to serve as a temporary Band-Aid. But I’d rather be alone than spend time with someone who helps pass time.  
Sometimes we crave a little chaos. And maybe the hurricane, no matter how exaggerated it was, satisfied that need.  We all know people or have the tendency ourselves to heighten events in our lives – to stir things up. Whether it is an external force, or an internally generated one. We latch on to it, even incite it, in order to wake us up to what matters, or shift our perspectives out of complacency or blindness. Or sometimes simply because we need a change.
And drama always leaves a bit of a mess in its wake, right?
When I woke up this morning, I anticipated mess: a power outage, my dog’s inability to hold in #1 evidenced on the carpet, and my internet and cable shut down. But instead, it was tranquil and quiet. When I opened my eyes, I was welcomed by a working Blackberry, lit up by texts from my mom and sisters, and the scent of brewing coffee coming from the kitchen.
So for that, I thank Irene.  She was on a path, headed towards us with her own agenda: to interfere with our plans, shake us up, and leave a big mess in her wake.  But in the calm after the storm, it’s up to us to give her intrusion and its affect on our lives meaning and purpose.

Signs. Are they real? Or do we just want them to be?

We hear it all the time. It’s a sign! The universe is talking to me! But how? By singing to us at bedtime, or as a little voice in our heads?  I don’t believe that the universe speaks to us all in one “universal” language that can be easily studied or decoded. It speaks to each of us personally, in different ways, and not with sounds or words.

But only if we choose to pay attention. When we are abruptly woken from our stubborn slumber and our ears and heart are suddenly trained to listen. I know it sounds hokey to some (I can hear you men snickering). “Universe” is a term my dad uses only when referring to an article he read in the NYT science section.

That’s not the universe I am referring to here. I’m talking about the one that intercepts us, that throws a lens onto our skewed perspective, that tests our resolve. The one that shows itself in countless tangible ways, and yet it is inside the intangible where its transformative meaning can be derived.

Like when you’re thinking about someone from your past with whom you have unresolved issues – an ex most likely – and then as you’re walking home alone, that person appears on the street, walking towards you. Does your heart race and pulse quicken? Or do you feel calm, knowing that you could handle whatever that encounter may bring? Whether you interact with this person or what is said at this point is irrelevant. Because the universe has already spoken. It happened in that moment where you stopped to consider how you feel.

For me, these signs have been abundant over the past several years. I’ve run into my ex-husband at what I call critical intervals, when I needed to pay attention to something that I was ignoring. Once, it was in a restaurant window in greenwhich village, when I was feeling lonely and nostalgic. I didn’t choose to keep walking; I chose to stop, and tap on the window. He turned, and then to my surprise, a girlfriend of mine – who I didn’t realize even knew him – ran out to confront me before he could, to explain why she was having dinner with him. This was a friend with whom I had been sensing a dull strain, where I would leave our outings feeling depleted, and yet I ignored it. This friend anxiously explained what she was doing there, but what she said didn’t stick. It couldn’t stick, because this moment, to me, wasn’t about explanation, or jealousy, or anger. It was about the universe kicking my sleeping subconscious awake, telling it – telling me- that this friendship was an unhealthy one, and that I needed to acknowledge it. It wasn’t actually about my ex at all; he was just the vehicle, one that I would definitely stop and take notice of. Sometimes, when the words on our signs are too tiny to read, the universe rewrites them. In big bold letters.

Some signs have come through Facebook (Yes, I’m invoking Facebook…take a moment to recover). But isn’t it inevitable that tangential contact with random people from our past, may suddenly crop its head up in defining moments? Like the time I had fearfully set a shaky foot on the path of reinvention, searching for my creative voice, and got a random message from a guy who had been in my Freshman dorm. He wrote that he saw a painting in Art Forum magazine that reminded him of a piece I had painted way back then, that inspired him. I didn’t remember it, but he did. And he, or the universe, in the moment I must have needed it most, made sure to remind me.

There are bigger ones of course – of divine intervention. A friend of mine’s father died recently. On the day of the funeral, her husband found out that his mother, who had been waiting for a new liver, after years of pain and despair, had miraculously found a donor.

A few years ago, shortly after moving back to NY, I was sitting on a bench in Madison Square Park on a sunday afternoon. It was not yet spring, and I was writing in my journal, feeling despondent, and brainstorming ideas for my book which had not yet been written. A butterfly suddenly appeared and flew back and forth along the long bench, as if it was searching for a place to sit. And then, out of all the other people or places, it chose me. It hovered over my open journal, and then settled onto it.  It stayed there for several minutes, comfortable in my lap. People were in awe, as was I. Although I still haven’t figured out the hidden meaning behind this.  Did the butterfly know I needed a pick me up? Or that I am obsessed with its species? Maybe it was flirting with me. Or, maybe it was just attracted to the bright white of my journal pages.

I was prompted to recall these auspicious encounters today because I’m in LA, where I used to live, and so I inevitably revisit my past.  And sometimes it visits me.  I ran into two former colleagues yesterday, whom I hadn’t seen since exactly three years ago to the day; the day the bottom of my life had dropped out. Since then, our lives have taken different paths. They are now married with children. And I am not. Again, it wasn’t as much about seeing them as it was about how I felt inside while speaking with them. This time, I didn’t listen to them wistfully, wishing for what they had. Instead, I listened to them with a fondness, an openness, and suddenly recognized that I’m okay… more than okay…to be in the exact place I am today.

So, are the signs real? Or are we trying to turn nothing, into something?

Does it matter?