This past Monday the New York area got hit by a massive summer storm. I meant to leave work early to avoid having to drive up the New Jersey Turnpike, but I left late and got stuck in the worst of it. Instead of my usual 40-minute drive home, it took almost 90 minutes. When I got off at my exit, I was greeted by a flooded off-ramp that trapped my car, and the cars of my fellow commuters in front of a deep lake of water. One brave driver tried to get through before getting stuck which meant that we were just going to have to wait for the water to recede.
For a few minutes, all of us sat patiently, but 10 minutes turned into 20 and then 40 and our collective patience began to wear thin. I initially used the time to catch up on email, but I was annoyed. I was hungry. The last thing I wanted to do was indefinitely sit in my car.
In the hour we spent stuck, two groups of people emerged: the annoyed and the amazed. The first group were people not-so-silently brooding in their cars. Some seemed outwardly frustrated, rolling their eyes at the inconvenience or having, what I could imagine to be, exasperated phone calls with spouses about dinner or childcare. Their arms were crossed and their faces hardened.
The other group were people who had left their cars to walk around and survey the flooding. These people didn’t seem irritated at all. They looked almost happy! They were talking to people they didn’t know, laughing at their bad luck, even suggesting that perhaps pizza could be delivered by boat. A woman with a fitbit walked up and down the ramp attempting to get her 10,000 steps. A few had made friends with the police officers guarding the scene, strategizing how we might hasten the water drainage so we could all go home.
I wish I could say that I naturally fall in the second group. The truth is that I was sitting annoyed in my car, feeling just a tad sorry for myself and my long ride home in the terrible weather. But as soon as I got out of my car, I felt better and my annoyance began to melt away. A woman came up to me and exclaimed, “at least we have a great view!” She pointed behind us to the pink and purple and coral painted sky. I had to admit that the heat and rainstorm and impending sunset had led to the most gorgeous view. Instead of looking at the flooding and wishing I was home, I got to stand for several minutes in awe and amazement of our natural world.
A few minutes later, a mere two and a half hours after I left work, the water level fell and the police indicated that it was safe for us to drive through. I got back in my car and headed home. I didn’t feel annoyed anymore. I felt grateful to have made it safely through the storm. I even felt lucky that getting stuck let me be amazed at what I usually take for granted.
Karen Perolman is the associate rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ. Ordained in 2010 by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Karen credits her involvement with NFTY, URJ Camp Harlam, and the Maryland Hillel community with her desire to pursue the rabbinate, including a pivotal summer traveling with the NFTY in Israel program. Karen is a voracious reader which fuels her passion to understand the intersections between food, politics, Judaism, feminism and social justice. She can be found on twitter @rabbikrp.