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Hurricane Irene, picture from International Space Station, August 24, 2011. (Source/NOAA). In public domain.

Dateline: Thursday, September 6, ’79. Hurricane — now Tropical Storm — David has hit the New York City area with wind speeds up to 70 mph and some heavy rains. A nine-year-old fifth-grader walks the half-mile from his apartment building on East Lincoln Avenue in Mount Vernon, New York to William H. Holmes Elementary School. In between, limbs and branches snap and fall and the wind breaks up a cheap umbrella as this boy hops over a downed power line and telephone wire on his way to and from school.

That boy, of course, was me. It was my second day of fifth grade with Mrs. O’Daniel. We’d all heard about Hurricane David for nearly a week as it tore through the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, Florida and the Appalachians on its way to New Jersey and good old New York. I certainly wasn’t the only one who jumped, hopped and literally ran through near-hurricane force winds to get to school that morning, and to get home that afternoon.

By the time I reached school, I didn’t feel wet so much as I felt blasted by the wind. I felt excited, mostly in a

Hurricane/Tropical Storm David, US Eastern Seaboard, September 6, 1979. (Source: NOAA). In public domain.

good way, seeing a power line spark within twenty feet of me near a drainage grate. Not to mention trees pummeled into submission, uprooted, pushed into sidewalks and houses, across streets and into traffic. I felt adventurous, fearless and really, really clean.

I don’t remember a whole lot of folks complaining that Frank Field, Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons of WNBC-4 TV in New York had over-hyped what at one point was a Category 5 hurricane as it went through the Dominican Republic the week before. I don’t remember — even though this apparently happened in South Florida — the two and a half million people in the NYC area without power accusing the National Hurricane Center experts of having some form of Munchausen Syndrome because the storm didn’t destroy the Twin Towers. I certainly didn’t hear about parents complaining when their schools were open or if their schools were closed despite or because of Hurricane/Tropical Storm David. After all, more than 2,000 people lost their lives in the Caribbean and the US to this system.

But here we are, thirty-two years later, as the pampered and spoiled Americans we are, complaining about having to prepare for what turned out to be a relatively minor hurricane event in Irene. If a Category One hurricane that only on its final day of blowing across the eastern seaboard (Sunday, August 28) became a tropical storm can be called minor.

Town lies in rubble after Hurricane David hit Dominica, September 1979. (Source/National Geographic Society/Joseph J. Scherschel).

Meanwhile, at least twenty-one people died. Millions in New York, Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey and the Carolinas were left without power. Several major river systems are cresting or will crest in the coming days, causing more flooding and damage. All adding to the damaged power lines that are part of our degraded national power grid. As well as the washed-out bridges and roads and towns from Vermont and upstate New York all the way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

For those asking the question of whether there was too much hype about Hurricane Irene, shame on you. For those parents who complained bitterly — like those in my Silver Spring, Maryland neighborhood — about the first day of school being delayed because our school didn’t have power, shame on you. For those who were too shortsighted to realize how much worse things could’ve been beyond waiting for Con Ed or Pepco, shame on you.

Life happens. And when life happens, our choices are to ride the waves of life, be drowned by them, or to sit on our entitled hands in judgment over whether life happens or not. Unfortunately, a few too many of my neighbors and fellow citizens too often choose the role of critical hand-sitting. It’s simply ridiculous.