Today was supposed to be my last day of physical therapy following the knee replacement operation at the beginning of June. I didn’t make it. Instead I walked up the stairs to the 14th floor and then walked back down carrying a suitcase and a backpack. I think my surgeon and therapists would have been proud of their work in action. (I’ve told people that I went up and down 14 flights of stairs, but there really is no 13th floor. I figured I earned the exaggeration.)
As people have seen in the news, the northeast was hit by torrential rains carried by the remnants of storm Ida. In Philadelphia this resulted in flooding along the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, which flow on either side of the city. My apartment overlooks the Schuylkill.
When I woke up yesterday morning, the river was already higher than I’ve ever seen and rising rapidly. Tenants received an email warning that the stores and garages on the lower level were already flooding, and that we shouldn’t use the elevators. When I looked down at the garage entrance below my bedroom window, I could see water already up to the top of the ramp. It was too late to rescue my car.
The electricity went out about 10 am, but I still had water. Then the water stopped. After conflicting messages through the morning, around noon by text and email we were told to get out. There was no power in the building. When I opened my apartment door, the hallway was pitch black. Even the emergency lights were out. I walked over to the stairwell and it was pitch black. I did not relish walking down 13 flights of stairs in total darkness. I went back to the apartment to get flashlights, but found that mine seemed rather weak. New batteries, but still somewhat dim in this darkness.
I saw someone at the other end of my hall coming out of their apartment with a stronger flashlight. I grabbed a few things quickly and asked if I could go down with her. (I could see her now.) She said yes. We started down and soon caught up with others coming down. Also with flashlights. There were other even older people in the group so the pace was more my speed and I was glad not to be the one holding up the line. We let people pass if they wanted.
We also met firefighters and National Guard soldiers coming up the stairs to help people down. When we got to the ground floor, we immediately left the building and joined a crowd waiting to hear what was next. City Emergency Management people told us that we would be taken to shelters in local high school gyms. That didn’t happen until four hours later after I had already been picked up by my niece Katie Ryan and brought to her house.
That’s where I am spending my second night with no time of return in sight. As I said at the beginning, I was able to get back up to my apartment today to get some clothes, medicines, etc. I do want to acknowledge the young firefighter who went back up to my apartment yesterday to retrieve my weekly pill box, which I realized I would really need when I heard we might be out at least four days. I also found all the firefighters and National Guard very caring and helpful to everyone. The kindness of strangers continues to give me strength.
I told this story many times yesterday to friends and relatives. In the same matter-of-fact tone. This morning, however, as I was telling my brother Patrick what happened I started to cry. I realized that Buddhist equanimity means not just rolling with the punches. We need to pay attention to how our bodies and our feelings are processing what we’re experiencing. After hanging up with Patrick, I sat for about half an hour just listening to my beating heart.
P.S. The picture at the top shows the flooding on the Vine Street Expressway next to our apartments. One of the four towers is on the left of the picture. It is the tower farthest from the Schuylkill, whose waters you can see at the foot of the building, as well as on the road. When I went to get my stuff today, they were still pumping the water out of the Expressway.