Mid-morning Sunday, Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm. Sky has lightened. Time to raise the blinds. The New York Times web site – the new and marvelous face of US journalism – reports flooding in all five boroughs, but not the devastation a full-force hurricane would have caused.

So here’s the question: if we spent a day preparing for a hurricane that never arrived, did we waste our time? Or, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg must be asking on his larger stage, was he correct to have shut down the mass transit system, evacuated 300,000 citizens and spent large sums on emergency-crew overtime?

Having seen what happens when people aren’t prepared, I vote for preparation, even if costly. I think it does us good to test our emergency preparedness, our information systems, and our trust in leadership and first-responders. It does us good to know we are part of something larger than ourselves. It does us good to receive prayers and good wishes. It does us good to recognize what really matters: family, health and safety.

This summer has been a humbling time for New Yorkers – and for people in many places. Nature hasn’t cooperated with our plans. Politicians have been more dreadful than usual. Presidential aspirants have started low and sunk lower. The economy has refused to tick upward. Bring on the term “dysfunctional.”

In a way, it has been a relief to see something work. The subways shut down without incident. Way to go, oft-maligned MTA! Emergency crews showed up – which they hadn’t exactly done during a blizzard last winter. Way to go, public employees! Residents took precautions but didn’t panic, start looting or crush onto bridges. Way to go, neighbors!

Maybe 9/11 was more than a one-time wake-up call. Maybe we learned something deep and fundamental about keeping our heads. Maybe we learned to trust in the common sense of those around us. Maybe we learned to rise above feelings of helplessness and victimization.

If so, then the forces of fear and hatred that are trying to whip up a hurricane of revenge and panic in our national politics will find us better prepared than they expect. Already, their loose and wild talk is recoiling on them. A few more storms, and we might find ourselves saying, “Come on, bring in the grownups!”

As for this New Yorker – of 2007 vintage – this is my home now, and I feel more grounded in it than ever. Preparing for a storm and possible destruction makes my corner of this world more precious to me.

I’m sure the narrower minds will tee off on this strange weekend and find reason to blame the mayor, the governors, the president and, no doubt, whomever God is punishing with this storm (as they see it). I doubt they will get much of an audience. I know that, at ground level, systems seemed to work well, and people showed their resilience and common sense.

Hopeful signs.

Photo: Empty park along the Hudson River on Saturday

Comment