The neighbor in all of us

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They said the winds exceeded 90 mph. Stuck on State Blvd. during the height of the storm on the way home from the credit union, I had no trouble believing that.

I started to open the door to the Honda Civic a bit when my daughter ordered me not to leave the car. I looked around during one of those brief interludes when the cascade of water wasn’t crash against the windshield and realized her warning was right.

Debris from the huge oaks and maples was flying in a swirl all around the car. It would have been dangerous to leave the car, especially because we were at least 50 yards from the nearest building of the community mental health center. I stayed put. We got home across town through a circuitous route I couldn’t begin to retrace. Thank goodness, this car, which I had just bought a couple of weeks before, suffered only one repairable dent on the front fender.

The way home and the rest of that day or so told another story, not so much about downed
trees, neighborhoods without power, flooded underpasses and phone lines threaded across
streets. My city saw all that to be sure. Here it is a week after nature’s wrathful assault. And we still hear of people just now getting power restored, following a lesser yet serious storm just yesterday.

But throughout these ordeals that touched most everyone in the community I couldn’t help noticing how so many people reached out to help others. I saw folks waiting patiently to take their turn driving through an intersection where the traffic light was out. Nobody rush out to beat the other guy. At the supermarket, I saw people helping elderly and disabled persons get safely back to their car and unload their groceries.

I read newspaper accounts and heard about people with power offering to put up friends without it. Did I imagine it? Were store clerks and the gals at the checkout lanes especially friendly those few days after the storm? What about those scores of workmen I’ve seen in the park cleaning up the fallen limbs? What a thankless job.

Just yesterday and today, I saw Amish carpenters repairing a shelter at the park that serves as a regular site for picnics and other gatherings. As I walked by, I thought those guys must be miserable working in nearly 100-degree temperatures.

The city is moving ahead. Local officials are asking the state and feds for emergency aid. Damage estimates run into the millions of dollars. I don’t know how you calculate the loss of business those folk, such as my wife’s hairdresser, whose shop or company, lacking electricity, couldn’t serve their customers.

Another uncounted downside when something like last week’s storm hits is the sense so many feel of being out of control. You can be demoralized, even depressed- especially when the power is off for days. I must admit it takes an unusually unselfish person during such times to be inspired by all those power company and phone linemen and city workman who are trying to put our town back together.

Still, despite their grim countenances and loss of property and income, I imagine most folk are glad to live in a community where so many step forward to pitch in as simply the right thing to do.

I saw such a neighborly side to our character when a blizzard struck in late 70s, later, in the 1980s, when our three rivers flooded entire neighborhoods throughout the city, bringing a visit of support from President Reagan. Just a few years ago, it was an ice storm that crippled large parts of town.

We’re not unique. I think of those scores of folks in Colorado who’ve now lost their homes, indeed, everything to wild fires. Their stories are heartbreaking. Yet the television interviews show so many outsiders, strangers no doubt, stepping in to help the victims begin to think of rebuilding their homes and their lives.

We like to say that such times bring out the best in people. I’d put it another way. I think such times remind us of what most people are all about. We’re not evil. We’re not even mostly selfish, despite the notable exceptions. We’ll stop along the highway to help a stranded motorist. We’ll heave sandbags to build a flood wall. We’ll look out for children playing too close to the street. It’s just the neighbor in us. Once in a while, the reminder can be quite eloquent.

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