Wednesday, 31 October 2012 Dear Sisters and Brothers, dear friends of General Seminary,
I have again escaped to Midtown where the power is flowing and the Internet is readily accessible. On Chelsea Square, not much has changed since I wrote to you yesterday. ConEd has not restored power and we are discovering just how dependent we are on electricity. We are also learning how dependent we are on one another. Rather than becoming more irritable, the members of the residential community seem to be growing more kind and generous. It is humbling. The disaster is bringing out the best in us. Members of the leadership who cannot be with us have been in touch by phone and Internet as much as possible, and I have spoken to Lang throughout each day since we realized how serious the storm was going to be. The members of the faculty have been everywhere on campus, offering support to the students and collaborating with them in a project of mutual support and care. We are doing a wonderful job of being the community we claim to be.
In Chelsea, only buildings with their own generators have power, and they are few. At night, the streets are dark, but they are safe. There has been no unrest, and the police are doing a good job of lighting major intersections and marking others with flares. The traffic lights, of course, are out. On the Close, we have mounted flashlights above doorways, keeping our own “intersections” marked and safe.Anthony Khani has brought a gasoline-powered generator to Chelsea Square, allowing us to keep our laptops and cell phones charged. While we can’t access the Internet, making the laptops only minimally useful, we have discovered that here and there on the Close, even if only for a few minutes at a time, we can snag a cell signal. People want to be ready with a charged phone.
The generator also allows us to keep one room warm and, perhaps the thing for which people are most grateful, to keep a pot of coffee brewing. In the same room, Dr. Anne Keating has installed two working landlines. We are grateful to her and to Mr. Khani. The students staffing “Command Central” are doing a wonderful job of fostering a sense of calm and mutual care. Seniors Michael Meaney and Rebecca Myers have been efficient and cheerful. President and Vice-President of the Community Council, Walt Kindergan and Matt Welch, have been steady leaders. They have modeled the “non-anxious presence” that Rabbi Friedman has taught us is so important in ministry.
In many ways, life on the Close has continued apace, despite the uncommon ways we have been forced to hold some things together. Yesterday, while we still had daylight, we celebrated the Eucharist in the Refectory. The day was overcast and the Chapel was too dark. Dr. Katherine Shaner, who teaches New Testament, presided.
Thanks to Melinda Choi of Aramark, our Refectory schedule has not been disrupted. We were promised only scaled back meals, but they have been anything but that. Today, we had three hot entrees at lunch, soup, dessert, and plenty for making take-away sandwiches. Chef Justin Poly has taken very good care of us under very difficult circumstances. (In the photo, you will see that people wore hats and coats to lunch today. The food was hot but the room was cold.)
Behind the scenes, workers continue to pump water out of the basement of the hotel. We have heard that ConEd is monitoring the readiness of individual buildings to have power restored, and so we want to make sure that all of the structures on Chelsea Square have dry basements. The photo below shows water continuing to flow out of the hotel onto 10th Avenue. Turn the corner onto 21st Street, though, and you would think that nothing at all had happened in Manhattan. The sky today was blue and, were the streets not far more quiet than usual, it looked and felt like any crisp autumn day. On the Close, our maintenance workers have been tireless in cleaning up debris left by the storm. One of them, Rodney (whose surname I unfortunately do not know), bicycled from Brooklyn yesterday to take care of us, and three of them have stayed with us day and night. Two have slept on the odd sofa. One slept last night in the guest room of Fr. Drew and Ms. Paula Kadel. The GTS community has been incredibly generous.
So the news from General Seminary is good. We are all well. We have improvised where systems have failed, and we are taking good care of one another. That is not to say that we are not a bit weary and stir crazy. (I was relieved to come to Midtown to write this updates, make phone calls, and track email: 94 new messages in the past 22 hours.) One-by-one, some of us who have nearby friends and relatives are finding ways to travel to them and the joys of electric lights and hot water. Today, I saw Middlers Mark Genzler and Br. Maximilian Kolbe Lebus, SSF, working on their bikes, not so they could exercise or see the sites, but so they could escape for a while. Still, cabin fever has not brought any tension or unkindness to GTS. Just the opposite has happened.
It is impossible to know when we will have electric lights and hot water on the Close again. The Times is reporting that only 2000 of the 220,000 ConEd customers who lost power when a 14th Street substation was knocked out by water have had their electricity restored. I think we are part of the 220,000, so the odds of a quick fix are small. Limited subway service will begin tomorrow, but nothing below 34th Street. Miles of tunnels and stations on our end of the Island are still flooded. Limited service is also being restored on Metro-North and the LIRR, so some of our commuter staff, students, and faculty may soon be able to get to Manhattan. Things are getting better, but only slowly. We plan to be back to normal by Morning Prayer on Monday, but that may not happen. Please watch for further messages from me. Dr. Keating is working to get the website (www.gts.edu) up. On the homepage will be a button, “Storm Update,” where you will find the latest news.
We know that many of our friends are praying for us, and we are grateful. Would you please also help us by circulating this and other email you receive from us?
Should this letter reach any of the residents of the Close, remember that information is being steadily updated on the bulletin board in the mailroom in Moore Hall. Please post anything that you think would be useful to the rest of us.
Last night, some students tried to reach me by calling my cell. Of course, it didn’t work. If you need me in the night, please knock on the door of Moore 2W. The door is just outside my bedroom, and I will surely hear you.
I will write again tomorrow or, if something significant should happen, sooner.
I, and all of us on the Close, hope that all of you who receive this letter are safe and that the storm has not greatly disrupted your life. Happy Halloween! Whoever came up with the name, “Frankenstorm,” really nailed it.
(The Rev.) Canon Patrick Malloy, PhD