Darkness in the Red Hook Houses

Sharing food connects us to our primal urge to gather together, to rebuild our tired, weary bodies while sitting around the proverbial fire. If nothing else, that is what makes us human: feeling the need to join others, to find restoration there. We can rise even further than that, by recognizing that we all belong around that fire; that we are obligated to share the spoils of the day with others when darkness comes.

The darkness came with a storm surge on the night of October 29th.

We can connect at a celebratory meal to our friends and loved ones; we can connect to the majestic power of the land when we harvest vegetables on a warm summer morning and eat those vegetables at dinner that very night; when we run up and down the darkened stairwells of the Red Hook Houses, a public housing development devoid of power, heat, and hot water 11 days after Hurricane Sandy, we can reach a place of deep connection to our brothers and sisters, to our fellow New Yorkers, and to the need for true sustenance we all share.

I found myself here on Friday, in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where water came streaming onto the streets during the storm, flooding basements, knocking out power. Businesses on Van Brunt Street sit dark and shuttered, or run off generator power. This is the new soundtrack of the city (the parts not yet returned to “normal”): the generator humming while water is pumped out of the basement, streaming onto the street, a loud reminder of where our power resides.

The same water that surrounds the neighborhood on three sides, providing serenity in the good times, turned on the neighborhood with an unfeeling fury.

And now the Red Hook Houses sit in cold, anxious darkness. Residents stay in their unheated apartments, afraid or unable or too tired to go down 14 flights to retrieve supplies and food and then bring them back up 14 flights.

The people who are making that trek, up and down, up and down, in darkness, seem weary after these 11 days. They seem beaten down by the effects of nature’s indifference. There is a lot of hope in the handing of hot food to an elderly woman trying her best to stay warm on the 14th floor. There is also a chance that hope will drown or get lost in the wet darkness of the stairwell.

Less than a mile away, on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, kids walk home from school. The coffee shop is busy. People come and go from the subway station, and the sun is shining.


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