With a Little Help from Friends

The day after Hurricane Irene passed, I resumed my routine of a morning walk, except it took me twenty minutes longer than usual. This extended time wasn’t because of downed trees and power lines, it was because everyone I met en route stopped and asked me how I fared in the storm. We stood and chatted about power outages, basement water and sump pumps.  Then we wished each other good luck with the clean up and went on our way. The thing is with the exception of one woman, I really didn’t know any of these people. But after sharing the experience of hunkering down against the winds and torrential rains of the hurricane, it didn’t seem right for any of us to just nod to each other and mumble, “G’morning.”

Over the next few days, I discovered that my town, like so many others in my state, was divided electrically into the “Haves” and the “Have-nots”.  The same categories applied to clean water and water pressure.  Homes in the hardest hit section of town were without water, power, and had flood damage.

For us “Haves”, the grass suddenly looked really, really green on our side of the fence, even it if was a little water logged. It’s hard to complain about a soggy section of basement carpet when a friend has six inches of standing water in her basement and people are throwing out hundreds of dollars worth of spoiled food from their refrigerators and freezers.

For every we-had-no-power-or-water-pressure story I heard, I also heard people talk about friends and neighborly kindness. Friends cooked and delivered meals, charged cell phones, computers and i-Pods, and offered their homes for hot showers, laundry, or a place to sleep.  Neighbors shared food, paper products and even supplied power for a few hours via extension cords across backyards to neighbors in the dark.  The Red Cross offered cases of bottled water and cleaning supply kits to those who were severely impacted.

All this made me think – What is it about a natural disaster that makes us reach out to one another?  Why is it we find ourselves going out of our way to check on our neighbors, even the ones we occasionally wave to?  How is it that our perspective about our own problems sharpens after events like a hurricane?

More importantly, what is it about our lives on the run-of-the-mill days that makes us forget our connections to friends and neighbors and revert to mumbling a greeting or giving a quick wave when a “How are you doing?” would be better?

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