The past 2 1/2 weeks have brought concentric circles of terrible news: the untimely death of an old friend, followed by the inconceivable loss of two children in our community, and then Hurricane Sandy – disaster on an epic level -all falling within the span of a few, nightmarish days at the end of October. When faced with events that make the whole world seem bleak, it’s hard to make sense of your normal life, to find meaning in your job, or a blog about the domestic luxuries so many are doing without. I mean – who really cares about kefir grains or walnut date balls at a time like this?
When the city shut down in anticipation of the Hurricane, I was grateful for the opportunity to retreat – too sad to participate in my normal routine anyway. Under other circumstances, I would have welcomed a few days at home to “do projects”, but in this case I was too overwhelmed to do anything but revert to the most basic tasks: cooking, doing dishes, folding laundry – the tasks that drag me down in the chaos of everyday were suddenly a comfort.
With a storm raging all around, we weren’t the only ones possessed by the desire to nest and cook. My guess is that more bread was baked on October 29th in New York City than on any other day in 2012. As a distraction from our heavy hearts, we called an impromptu pot-luck dinner party on that Monday night, inviting all our neighbors to come by and eat. We had made a big pot of black beans, fresh corn tortillas, and guacamole. Our neighbors showed up with chili, polenta pies, corn bread (all completely unplanned, I guess the vibe in our building is that natural disasters call for Tex-Mex). It was comforting to be together – jovial even – before we knew the extent of all the damage left in Sandy’s wake and we were left with an acute feeling of survivor guilt. What is it about disaster that makes one head for the kitchen? Or the knitting needles? When tragedy strikes, one is suddenly plunged into the feeling that basic daily existence is fragile. The ability to wake up, make coffee, and snuggle with your children becomes a luxury. Folding laundry makes you feel like you are doing something constructive when everything feels out of control. Sometimes turning inward is all one can do.
For those of us spared from any hurricane damage, this past week has brought about a slow return to the routine of school, the frenzy of the to-do list, and the obligations that are no longer cancelled. There is no more time for baking bread and laundry folding has returned to its former role as the task you hope your spouse will do. Yet, two weeks later there are still people in shelters, and many more at home without power and heat, each day moving closer to winter. My friend, Joshua, has been visiting affected areas and documenting the damage which you can see here. It looks like it is going to be a long haul and now is the time to channel that domestic impulse outward.
It’s inspiring to see the number of people who have turned out to cook and serve food at shelters, to collect and deliver supplies to the areas most affected, donating blood and money and committing acts of daily domesticity in service to others. They are doing it both through large institutions like the Red Cross or the Mayor’s office, but also in many small, grassroots ways, like Occupy Sandy. Last Saturday, some folks on the Upper West Side got a hold of a truck and made a call for supplies – by the end of the weekend they had delivered two trucks worth of food and clothing to victims in the Rockaways. Congregation Beth Elohim, in Park Slope, has organized its community to cook food, deliver supplies and help evacuate people in need. Knitting circles all over the country are mobilizing their members to produce warm goods to donate to people who are soon going to need them. It shouldn’t take a natural disaster for this to happen, but sometimes it does.
If you would like to contribute in some way, here are a few helpful links: