Survivor’s Pride


We’ve heard of “survivor’s guilt,” the pangs felt by people who have lived through horrors of war or natural disaster in which others, perhaps comrades, were killed. Hurricane Irene has brought us a recurrence of what I’m calling survivor’s pride, the kind that expresses itself as scorn for all the precautions and fears that preceded the storm. Survivor’s pride can be seen also in the chain emails about our wonderful childhoods in the best of all possible times when no one made us wear bike helmets or worried about where we were all day, and we shared from one coke bottle, drank from the hose, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

I’ve never been much moved by the nostalgia for the good old days when we could leave our doors unlocked and could go anywhere day or night without fear. Only by the quick thinking and immediate actions of my older sister was I spared being murdered at age four by a man trying to abduct her. No doubt, like Cedric in the Harry Potter novels, I would have been the “spare” who got killed. In what dangerous place were we? We were walking, ironically, along the top of “dead man’s hill,” on the grounds of my elementary school.

Was Hurricane Irene hyped by the television weather reporters? I would say it was, especially by the focus on the tornado warnings, but meteorologist Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz did what I considered a fine job of putting those warnings into perspective and getting us back to the situation at hand, which was the hurricane.

Come Sunday afternoon, I was very thankful Irene had not been far worse in our area, but such thankfulness is always modified by the distress of those whose lives were disrupted or whose property was damaged or lost and, much more so, by the anguish of those who lost someone loved. That we stayed safe and did not even lose electrical power, that the church had just put a new roof on the manse in which we live, that we suffered no loss even of property – none of that eases the pain of those whose lives were changed by the hurricane. Yes, it could have been worse, much worse. For some, it was.

As we persist in our folly of cutting government spending to restore economic prosperity to the land – the economic equivalent of digging down deeper and deeper to get up out of a pit – we face the likelihood that in the future, our government will not be so well prepared to help the stricken and coordinate responses to natural disasters. Read here for Dana Milbank’s thoughts on this subject in the Washington Post.

What does survivor’s pride do for us? Does it make us feel strong? Superior? Does it feed our adolescent resistance to being told what to do for our own good? It seems quite popular these days with my Baby Boom generation as we look back and congratulate ourselves on our toughness and independence. Of course, we did take the polio vaccine (government interference?), and it is true that those who didn’t survive all those supposedly imaginary dangers of childhood are not doing chain emails from their perspective. But my sister thought fast and acted quickly. So I’m a survivor.