Between Hurricane Sandy and the U.S. elections on Tuesday, the past few days have felt pretty intense. And as usual in times like these, you can see the best and the worst in people.
Although my neighborhood -- about four miles north of the Bronx -- escaped flood damage, we didn't escape power outages. I think most of the power is back now, but many gas stations are still closed. The lines to the open stations are insane; I drove around a couple lines on Saturday that were easily a quarter to a half mile long.
I question the wisdom of sitting in an idling car for what must be hours in order to not run out of gas. But this is less remarkable to me than the folks who dash to the supermarkets and clear out the bread aisles whenever snow is in the forecast. I can't remember having to wait more than a day for the snow plows to clear the roads around here.
I assume some people do really need a full tank and a large supply of bread, but I suspect most of the gas line idlers and panic bread buyers are operating on some level of greed born of the belief in a separate self that needs this stuff and is afraid those other people will get all that stuff first.
Of course, I can say that because I can manage without bread and don't drive that much. And I filled my tank right before the storm.
It's a relief to have the election over with, I must say. Presidential elections in the U.S. are exhausting and seem to go on forever. Seriously, the Republican primary campaigns were well underway by this time a year ago, and there has been no letup since. I consider myself fortunate to live in reliably Democratic New York, which presidential candidates mostly leave alone.
I don't want to be too hard on those in despair, because I'm sure their anguish is genuine. I hope they find their way out of it soon. But of course, what's really happened here is that events did not conform to the "reality" their beliefs had caused them to project around themselves. That America never was real, but that's a hard truth to explain to people.
I noticed a long time ago that we Americans all walk about with their own private America in our heads. But since colonial times this country has been a crazy quilt of cultures projecting diverse biases and expectations. Experience of this place varies enormously depending on what part of the country one is born into, as well as on racial and class identities.
For example, I can trace some of my family back to some Virginia farmers of the early 18th century. After the Revolution their children went west and settled into the Appalachian and Ozark mountains. They were hillbillies, in other words. Their America was a very different place from that of a Georgia slave, a Maine fisherman, a Mohawk wife and mother, or a Boston lawyer. Very, very different. Different circumstances, different food, different music and folk crafts, different biases and beliefs. Yet all American.
So America always has been multicultural and diverse, since it's been called "America." We can pretend otherwise, to the extent we can surround ourselves with others "like us," whose own private Americas are similar to ours. But mass communication and increasing diversity are making that much harder to do. Thank goodness!