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As a region battered by Sandy braces for the nor'easter, I think of Grandma

When superstorm Sandy hit New York City, I made my way through a pitch-black hallway and down the stairs remembering Grandma – and the New York we had shared. And I thought of 9/11. That spirit of service and community has shown itself again in the aftermath of Sandy.

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Two women embrace after voting at East Elementary School, Nov. 6 in Long Beach, N.Y., one of several voting locations that were created as a result of superstorm Sandy. Op-ed contributor Jonathan Zimmerman recalls how his New Yorker grandmother 'loved the brusque humanity and boundless resilience of this teeming, indomitable city....Now as a nor’easter threatens the region...I just wish she were here. We would weather another storm together.'


Kathy Kmonicek/AP

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What’s going to happen to Grandma?

That was my first worry, when I heard that hurricane Sandy was coming. Then I remembered: Grandma’s not here anymore. It’s easy to forget, because she was with us for so long; she passed last December at the age of 104. And I stayed at her Greenwich Village apartment two nights a week for 16 years, while commuting from my Philadelphia home to my job in New York.

So when the rains began, and the lights went out, I found myself lying in the dark and remembering Grandma – and the New York we had shared.

From the studio apartment that I now rent, just one floor above Grandma’s place, I made my way through a pitch-black hallway and down the stairs, guided only by the weak light of my cellphone. And I thought of 9/11.

On September 11, from the street outside my office, I had watched one of the Twin Towers crumble into dust. Then I went to Grandma’s apartment and we watched both buildings fall, over and over again, on her old television set.

Over the next few days, we saw images of unspeakable sadness. Dazed workers filed out of the financial district, their faces covered in ash and tears. People wandered the streets in search of missing loved ones, posting pictures and phone numbers. And smoke wafted into Grandma’s apartment, just a mile from Ground Zero, adding a pungent scent of tragedy and loss.

But there was kindness, too, and determination, and courage. We watched footage of firemen risking their own lives to rescue the wounded. We saw sanitation workers combing the wreckage in search of survivors. At hospitals and clinics, meanwhile, thousands of New Yorkers lined up to give blood.

That spirit of service and community has shown itself again in the aftermath of Sandy. As the storm bore down on the city last week, the first thing I saw after emerging from my darkened building was a team of red-vested emergency workers, hauling off a downed tree that had been blocking the street.

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