Friends living in the Springs lost power for more than a week during the storm. Another friend, with an apartment in NYC (above 40th Street and the flood downtown) and with a second home in Georgica offered his.
“I’m not coming out,” he said “so please use it.”
And they did. They moved from their modest and vulnerable house without power to their friend’s house with power. With the lights on and the heat set at an even 72 degrees, they were able to read, to cook their meals, to witness the east coast disaster on an enormous television screen. Because of their friend’s generous offer of his house, life for more than a week of ferocious weather and lack of power-went on as usual.
Actually at first it went on much better than usual. The borrowed house was comfortable and solid and evenly heated. There were no drafts even as the wind roared around outside looking to gain entry while their own modest house, six miles east and up the road, was powerless and ice cold. Even in good weather, with power and heat and in a mild wind, their house let air in under and around the doors. In a strong wind, the sliders shook from fear of being broken. And the usually serene bay was only yards away.
But in their borrowed house, so quiet they weren’t sure they weren’t the only people left on the planet, they watched from inside the house as enormous old trees bent in half in the 60 mile an hour winds. The borrowed house was so solid and so quiet, they were unable to hear the howling wind. On the over-sized television screen, they saw people in Queens and Brooklyn, New Jersey and lower Manhattan standing in water up to their knees. And behind all these people, their homes, big and small, were piled up, torn to pieces, rubble thrown around by the vicious storm. Trying to talk to reporters the people could barely be heard over the sounds of the winds and the water.
My friends couldn’t believe how lucky they were to have the use of a safe and comfortable house. But after four days and the fourteen huge rooms, and the perfectly calibrated temperature in every one of them; after four days of being WITH while everyone else was WITHOUT, their own house took on a new meaning.
They began to fully understand what “home” meant to the people they saw on the television screen. It wasn’t just that the first floor of those houses was flooded, or that windows had been blown out. Their homes were their identity; the very structure of their lives that the storm had torn out from under them. It was the photographs that were water-logged or missing, the chair in the corner of a living room, someone’s dishes that had been someone’s mother’s. “I just want to go home,” one woman kept repeating as she wildly searched through debris for anything that might be left from her house. “I just want to go home….but there is no home!!”
Home, my friends then realized, is how we settle it. How we furnish it. The years we’ve lived there, the emotional sanctuary it provides. It’s who we are. A borrowed home, comfortable as it is, can’t replace it. Nor can a motel room stand in, even temporarily, for our own home. And no matter how modest, in frightening times of the world or the weather, one wanted more than anything for those two weeks to be in one’s own home. Even if it was small, even if the wind whistled under the door frame, even if the house wasn’t tight enough to keep out the sound of the rain and wind. My friends, still without power in their own house, moved back. Their own house was where they needed to be.
When one doesn’t know how much worse the weather will get or how much longer it will last; no matter how fragile one’s life is in the wake of those storms, one’s own home, whatever and wherever it is, is the only place where one can feel safe. Unfortunately and sadly, for so very many people who lost their homes, safety was an illusion.