This is New York: Jack Suben, Seeing the Silver Linings
NEW YORK—Despite losing the larger part of his belongings, and his home, his mother-in-law, and his cat, Jack Suben, 59, has managed to find invaluable silver linings amid the destruction of Hurricane Sandy. In fact, he continues to find more silver linings as he reflects on the ominous day of Oct. 29, and the grim events that followed.
Suben had lived in his home in Sea Gate for 11 years. It was the first house he ever bought.
“I can’t tell you what it’s like to wake up on a Saturday morning, get a cup of coffee, walk out on the deck, and see the sun rise over the ocean. It’s incomparable,” Suben said.
Yet when the waters rose, they nearly wiped out the entire foundation of his house, clearing away his prized golf clubs, his daughter’s art, and a drum set he used to take music lessons with his son.
But such events were not a life digression for the Subens; sometimes it takes a tragedy to understand who you are, and what is important to you in life.
“The greatest [silver lining] … is the realization that my soul mate is my soul mate,” he said. “Following the storm, we really discovered how well we work together.”
Suben and his wife have been married for 29 years. Like most marriages, their relationship had been tested through a number of difficult trials.
“But this storm was an eye-opening experience,” he said. “It has been very powerful, moving, and enlightening for me. We’ve shared some very close moments that we will never forget.”
Suben met his wife at age 25; she was a waitress at a restaurant near his job in Midtown, he often ate there for lunch because he thought she was pretty. The rest is history.
After nearly three decades of marriage—conflicts, misunderstandings, and grievances arose.
“We were both very grateful that [a divorce] didn’t happen,” Suben said. “She is clearly the most important aspect of my life.”
After the storm, the Subens moved five times in four months. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) moved his family into one hotel on Nov. 10, with a brief reminder they will be moving again on Christmas Day.
The Subens needed to get in touch with their bank, Con Edison, and the National Grid but they lost power again on the Tuesday following the storm.
Suben and his wife camped out at a Starbucks for four hours, along with a convoy of people waiting to use the power outlet.
“At the end of which we went back to a house with no heat or light, and we said you know what, we were very productive today,” he said. “And we hugged and had a glass of wine to celebrate.”
“I met someone I had always known I loved but I didn’t realize I loved them that much,” Suben said. “To celebrate such a dark moment is really quite an eye opener. It’s all relative.”
The months that followed the storm were crippling. After a full workday at his architecture firm, Suben would spend the remainder of his evening at a hotel filling out insurance and FEMA paperwork.
“It was debilitating, like a second job,” he said. “But in between that we managed to find some time for ourselves.”
Suben tried to focus on appreciating the little things in life.
“We found half a dozen new favorite restaurants by moving around so much,” he said. “We got to see museums we wouldn’t have seen otherwise, such as the Museum of Arts and Design.”
“[The storm] is really a microcosm of life,” Suben said. “From the time you’re born till the time you die, you experience trauma of many kinds … somebody mistreated you, or you got jilted by a girlfriend.”
“When you think about it, this is nothing more than just another trauma that you have to sustain,” he said. “The choice is you either get through it or you don’t.”
Suben said most of what he lost can be replaced.
One of his daughters, 21, is an artist.
“A lot of her work was in her bedroom, and it was all lost, but the truth of the matter is she didn’t lose any of her talent,” he said. “For me and my family it was simply a matter of putting things into perspective.”
Suben is currently living in a small apartment in Midwood with his wife and their three college-age children. “Fifteen years ago all three kids shared a bedroom as well, they can do it again,” he joked.
But they’re not settling in Midwood.
Suben plans on rebuilding in Sea Gate. It’s a place that he still considers home, a place where he continues to attend community board meetings.
He is currently undergoing research and training to design a home that is super-storm resilient.
“It’s an exciting challenge. … I’m going to try to share [the design] with the community and the world.”
He has learned how to build homes on stilts, with protective materials that can sustain 100–200 mph winds and absorb the elements.
“You are gaining more wisdom everyday, and if anything, that is really what this experience has been all about, just learning to know yourself and what you’re capable of,” he said.
“These are life experiences, you pick them up as you go,” he said. “There’s no way of giving these to another person. They have to experience them on their own.”