October 2012, I was working at Woodbridge Mall which was open immediately after Sandy had hit! I wasn’t surprised; the mall closes for no one! At least it meant I would be getting paid and staying distracted during such a surreal time. I’d wake up to the hum of generators, get ready by the flashlight on my cell phone, and leave an extra 20 minutes early to navigate detours… so many detours.

By 10 AM, the mall was packed, not with shoppers, but with people looking for working outlets and a fresh cup of coffee! There were groups huddled around the pillars and against the walls, sitting close together not for warmth necessarily, but for energy. Guests in our store weren’t there to get clothes so much as to get out of their dark, cold (sometimes destroyed) house. Many were open to sharing their stories. We didn’t mind if they left without buying anything; they just wanted someone to listen to their worries.

Despite Frankenstorm, some little trick-or-treaters came to the mall that year. 2012, was the year of two Halloweens! Costumes came by again a few days later when New Jersey declared the official Halloween of 2012 in November. I made a run to the dollar store for even more candy that year. That made me happy because not only do I love the holiday, but that little piece of normalcy made all the difference to those kids and parents.

When I punched out, I wasn’t relieved to finish a long day as I would have been pre-Sandy. Instead, I was saddened to be leaving a place with electricity, running water, and company. At the same time, I was anxious to be with my family. After waiting for an hour at a gas station on my way home, and navigating an unfamiliar route around blocked roads, it was back to playing cards or reading a book by candle light.

I’ve recently moved to Philadelphia, but when the fall season began I was anxious for another severe storm warning, or a new Halloween date. It’s strange to think that none of my friends in the city experienced the gas rations, overcrowded diners with limited menus, or the hunt for a power outlet amongst strangers. Sure, they saw it on TV, but actually experiencing it, not knowing when it would end… well, let’s just say it makes you a lot more patient. So this year, storm or no storm, let’s be a little more patient, a little more understanding, and, most of all, a little more grateful.