The Washington Post

Hurricane Sandy: Get ready for the Big One

There are moments when the future is not your friend.

There are times when anxiety is the rational response to the facts at hand.

There is an ill wind blowing, and we have to get ready for it. It’s like facing surgery, or a meeting we know isn’t going to go well. So maybe it’s not exactly the proverbial appointment at the gallows, not quite the execution-at-dawn that so famously focuses the mind. But unpleasantness lies ahead. So what do you do?

You run through your checklist of course. Batteries. Candles. Full tank of gas. Cash. Jugs of water, plenty of ice, prescription meds. If you’re a coffee snob you grind your whole beans so you aren’t reduced to smashing them with a hammer when you lose power.

Of course you feel the need to connect to the people you care about. You call your kids at college and your parents who are far away. You touch base with various other family members, friends, check on people directly in the path of the natural disaster.

And maybe go for a final hike to enjoy the autumn colors before the leaves become soggy slicks at your feet and the trees are bare if not actually toppled. And listen to your favorite music, the music that most matters to you, the stuff that spoke to you years ago and still speaks to you and is your personal soundtrack.

And that, of course, plunges you down the nostalgia hole, and you remember what it was like when you were young and the world was new and the future stretched ahead infinitely and you have the young person’s ultimate resource, time — time ahead, that vast expanse of years to do whatever you wanted to do. You were rich in futures.

What else can you do? Make a a pot of soup. Bake some bread. Take stock of the stuff in the basement that might get flooded. Get organized.

Eventually you may realize that what you do before the Big One hits is what you should probably do every day.

Live a centered life, one that is steady but adaptable. Take care of your personal connections, do right by the people you care about, think of those who aren’t as lucky as you are.

Why not make that call to the old friend you haven’t spoken to for so long?

Or say thanks to someone who helped you when you were in need and who might not realize how you carry around this sense of indebtedness?

The Big One is always out there somewhere. Maybe not as far away as we’d like.

At a funeral no one ever talks about how much money the deceased made. No one ever talks about awards, honors, test scores, the size of the person’s house. People talk about the small gestures and friendship and love and the way the person could be counted on in the clutch.

When times get a little difficult – say, a major storm blowing in – we all have a chance to be at our best.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."


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