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Sunday, November 04, 2012


I begin this Sunday Jukebox entry with a little bit of relief at this time.

I am thrilled to report that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, my friends from the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. and Massachusetts areas made it through the storm just fine, and all of them are safe and sound. A few of them lost power for several days, and in some instances a few trees were snapped like twigs, but otherwise they are all okay. It makes me feel so relieved in knowing that they are all safe.

You know, I can't help but look at all of the photos taken of the hardest hit areas. In my wildest dreams, I never thought that the subway system in New York City would be flooded, but they were. And the Jersey Shore now looks like the aftermath of what would happen after a three year old boy loses his temper and throws all of his toys across a living room floor. Seeing the damaged homes, the wrecked boardwalks of Atlantic City, and the half-submerged boats in what was left of docks and harbours makes me feel incredibly sad. I hear that at least 40 people have been confirmed dead, and many others injured.

Although I can't imagine what it would be like to have to endure a massive storm in a large urban setting like New York City, Atlantic City, or even Toronto (which suffered some damage and deaths from Sandy a few days ago), I do know what it is like to survive a freak natural storm.

Before I introduce the song for today, I would like to tell you about my brush with a natural disaster, and how my family and I survived it. And yes, there is a connection with these stories and today's song feature.

Our tale dates back almost fifteen years ago, to January 1998. It was January 7, 1998, and the radio stations were calling for some really nasty weather to arrive. Whether it was an effect of the weather phenomenon known as El Nino, or whether the weather ended up forming some freakish early Winter storm, it was expected to be bad. Ice rain for an extended period that was expected to cause hazardous conditions on the roads. They were predicting that schools and stores would be shut down, and that we should expect harsh conditions. But I wasn't really all that concerned. All I cared about was that there was a possibility of school being cancelled the next day so I could use the time to bone up on my chemistry and math grades (both of which were terrible). I never thought that things would ever get that bad.

And then the storm hit just twenty-four hours later in the early morning hours of January 8, 1998.

I was woken up fairly early by my mom, who announced that I didn't have to go to school that day, as all the schools were closed. At first, I was thrilled...but then I remembered that I lived in Canada. Unlike most states in the United States that cancel school when a couple of snowflakes fall on the ground, my town usually kept schools open on blizzards and winter storms. For the schools to close completely meant that the storm was a lot more serious.

A minute later, the lights shut off...and I knew that things had gotten a lot more serious.

It was considered to be one of the largest ice storms of the 20th century. A huge storm dumped inches of freezing rain over parts of Ontario, Quebec, and Upstate New York, cutting off power to thousands of people. Looking out of my bedroom window, it was the most contrary sight. On one hand, the street looked like a scene from the front of a Christmas card...the trees were coated with a shell of glistening ice, and the freshly fallen snow from a couple of days earlier sparkled like pieces of crystal. On the other hand, the freezing rain caused several hydro lines and poles to snap and fall down, making venturing outside a challenge, and trees were falling down all over town, blocking roads and train tracks.

My hometown was completely cut off from the outside world. The hospital in town had back-up generators, and weirdly enough, one of the supermarkets also had a generator which was powerful enough for the store to remain open for part of the ice storm. But unfortunately, my house at the time was heated via electricity, and the stove in our kitchen was electric powered. This left us in a precarious position.

Luckily, my maternal grandfather had a gas powered stove, and his house was heated by gas power, so my parents and I moved in with him until power was restored.

It was really hard to be in that situation. I should explain that at the time of the Ice Storm of 1998, I was sixteen going on seventeen, and I was bored out of my mind. Without power, there was no video games, no television, no CD's to listen was just listening to the AM radio for weather updates and hearing old fashioned records from the 1960s and 1970s from a battery powered record player. What was worse, my father was never there during the whole time we were staying there. He worked for the railroad at the time, and he was working sixteen hour shifts trying to repair the train tracks and signals that were completely destroyed by the ice storm. So, for the first couple of days, it was reading comic books and doing homework by candlelight, and enduring boredom from not having anyone close to my age to talk to.

Things got better around Day 3 when my Uncle Roger and Aunt Jennifer moved in to my grandfather's house. Their two boys were just a few years younger than I am (there's a five year age difference between myself and his oldest son). And when my cousins moved in, things got more fun. We played board games, did some Mad was great. And time seemed to pass by quicker.

Then on January 13th, my family received some good news. Because my house was a block away from the hospital, my area was considered to be a top priority site for power restoration, and my home was one of the first in the town to get power back. So five days after the storm hit, we were back home.

Two days later, schools were reopened, and we had received word that all final exams for this semester were being cancelled. This was welcome news to me, as I knew that I would have likely failed math class had it not been for the storm. I got a 54, but in Canada, that's still a passing grade.

But even more importantly than a D- in math was the aftermath of Ice Storm 1998. I will never forget how the communities affected all came together to support and help each other out when times were tough. My grandfather's neighbours dropped by to check on him throughout the whole ordeal to make sure that he was okay. My father was on the team that helped restore train service to my hometown. I can only imagine the frustration and the harsh conditions that the workers of the power companies endured to restore power to communities.

And believe may have taken me some time to get it, but I am eternally grateful for the roles that everyone took on in order to get life back to normal. As I'm sure the people who were most affected by Sandy's wrath are feeling right now with the volunteers gathering donations of food and clothing for those hardest hit, and the people trying to restore power to customers all over New York and New Jersey.

Think about it. People of all walks of life joining together, rolling up their sleeves to help others who may have lost everything get back on their feet. People using their hands to help rebuild homes, restore vital services, and support each other emotionally.

Nobody's hands are too small or too weak when it comes to helping others. And speaking of hands...

SONG: Hands
ALBUM: Spirit
DATE RELEASED: November 17, 1998

Now, this song by Jewel is a powerful one (ironically enough, it was released the same year as the ice storm that plunged my hometown into darkness), and it was performed on the “Late Show with David Letterman” on September 18, 2001...just one week after the 9/11 attacks...another disaster which affected millions of people in the New York area. Another event in which people came together and supported each other in a time of need.

I think this song could also be used for recent events as well.

The song's video is quite impressive. It was directed by Nick Brandt, and shows Jewel driving down the street in the middle of a terrible thunderstorm. It seems like it is a typical rainy day until Jewel sees emergency workers sealing off the road. Turns out that an apartment building has collapsed, and the rescue workers are frantically trying to save the trapped residents still inside.

Rather than sit back and watch the scene unfold, Jewel gets out of the car, rolls up her sleeves, and helps out with the rescue efforts. As the video shows, Jewel is instrumental in rescuing a man that was buried alive underneath a bunch of rubble, as well as three children who are trapped inside a room.

Now, I imagine that most of us when faced with a situation like the one shown in the video might be shocked, scared, and unsure of what to do. Not Jewel though. She handled the situation like a pro, and she remained cool as a cucumber throughout the whole thing. Granted, the whole video shoot was a fictional encounter, but seeing all sorts of rescue efforts in the news and in online videos posted on social networking sites, Jewel's reaction is quite similar to the heroes who risked their lives to save others. Everyday people doing extraordinary things in the name of making someone else's life better, or preserving the lives of others in the worst possible tragedy.

Being filled with hope despite being surrounded by chaos.

I couldn't think of a better song to best sum up recent events than this one by Jewel, can you?

Oh, and while we are on the subject of hands, I hope that those of you in observance of daylight savings time have taken your hour hands and set them back one hour beginning at two o'clock this morning.  If not, better do it!  Otherwise, you will find your work schedules quite off kilter!

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