NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen
When Hurricane Sandy came hurtling toward the East Cost, we tried to prepare as best we could. When Sandy tore through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the rest of the Eastern seaboard, we prayed it would be over soon. And when it left, we experienced everything from massive devastation to minor inconvenience, depending on where we were at the time.
News reports showed towns decimated and communities trying to recover. Facebook posts informed us about how our family and friends were coping. We saw videos of families being reunited and pictures of pets being saved. We witnessed good samaritans offering their homes and supplies to help others, while looters plundered and the most desperate of us searched dumpsters for sustenance.
At this point, one week later, we are fully aware of everyone and everything affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Well, not exactly.
The other victims
In back of our house, the top half of an old tree was brought down by Sandy; fortunately, it was the only damage (and I use that word very loosely) we sustained. The next day, I went out to cut and split it for firewood. I worked my way from the top, down – and it was only when I got to the very last piece that I noticed this:
Our home may have been spared, but someone else’s wasn’t.
This had probably been a good 30 feet up, so I hadn’t noticed it before…but I felt bad for whomever had been living there. Somewhere, a homeless bird was now looking for a new piece of real estate.
I was reminded of the old adage, “there are two sides to every story.” But the longer I live, the more I realize that adage is not quite correct.
The Whole Ballpark
The fact is, there are always far more than just two sides to every story. There can be three, four, five, a dozen! You may be absolutely, positively sure of something, only to have some wild circumstance you never considered come flying at you from out of left field. Or right field. Or from behind the hot dog stand.
I always tell my kids, don’t assume that your truth is the real truth. Sometimes you’re right, but sometimes you’re wrong. And sometimes there is no ‘real’ truth – that is, there are times when there is truth in all sides of an issue, and the disagreement comes from a misunderstanding of that truth.
Whoa, starting to sound a bit too metaphysical there. Sorry about that.
But my point is, there are multiple sides to every story, multiple connections to every event. In the case of Hurricane Sandy, for every planned contigency and coordinated effort, there was unexpected misfortune (like the collapse of the Seaside Heights, NJ amusement park), unforeseen complications (voting may prove to be difficult for some residents of hard-hit areas), and unintended consequences (a growing anger among New York City residents who were going without power, while generators were being brought in for the marathon).
No matter how well we know something, how certain we are of it, or how prepared we think we might be…there is always another angle we never saw coming.
A friend of mine who lived on the Jersey coast for nearly 20 years told me that, even having survived massive storms like Hurricane Gloria and the Nor’easter of ’92, no one there could have expected what happened last week.
The folks in Huntsville, Alabama certainly never expected to see this.
Wanted: Tree, one bedroom
My wife and I pretty much live in the woods, so I’m sure our friend who lost his or her home won’t be out of luck for long…there are plenty of old trees perfect for carving holes into. But I have to admit, I never thought about all the wild animals being displaced or even killed due to Sandy. Not that there’s a lot I or anyone can do about it – but it’s still something that most of us have probably not considered.
How will Sandy affect the deer population in Pennsylvania? Will it raise the cost of Maryland Blue Crabs? Even the insect population – which was in overabundance this summer in the northeast due to a light winter and early spring – may be affected. But we never really thought about it, did we?
I know I should expect the unexpected…I try to anticipate the unanticipated…yet I’m constantly surprised by my inadequate foresight.
Applying the unseen angle
Knowing that these ‘unknown’ quantities exist is the first step in understanding how everything is connected. Applying that knowledge keeps us growing as individuals, even though we don’t know what those quantities necessarily are.
Look at all the ‘truths’ that have been debunked over the years: atoms were once considered the smallest unit of mass, before subatomic particles were discovered. Animal species once thought extinct have been found alive and well. Even the laws of physics get put to the test each time cosmologists and astrophysicists make a new breakthrough.
This is why, when writing poetry or commercials, producing audio, or even posting comments on discussion boards or Facebook, I try to look for the unseen. I try to find the angle that has yet to be found. I may not find it, but just the search itself can be fruitful. In business, it’s an extremely useful practice.
In writing poetry, it’s mandatory.
In life…it can be revelatory.