Be the Fuel … Or Be the Generator (It Doesn’t Really Matter Which)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

We bailed, bucket by bucket, trudging up and down the stairs, led only by the light of a small flashlight for nearly an hour.  Finally, exhausted, we reluctantly admitted that “it” was winning, that we needed to put down the buckets and change our strategy. We began moving as much as our arms could carry up the stairs and into the garage.  “It” was the water rapidly rising in the concrete well in our basement where our reliable old sump pump, under normal circumstances, unquestionably handles whatever it’s given.

These were not normal circumstances.  Hurricane Sandy had arrived in Northern Ohio.  The power was out, the house was beginning to chill, the rain was blowing horizontally just outside the walls and it was pitch dark both outside and in.  The wind was howling, pushing against the house like some mammoth boogey man, trying to invade our normally peaceful and comfortable home.

Our nerves were a bit frayed and edginess was creeping into our voices as the water rose.  We talked about what we could save and what we might simply have to abandon.  We couldn’t rescue the furnace … or the hot water tank … or the refrigerator …  And then came the pounding on the back door.  It was our 85-year-old next-door neighbor, Paul.  He had a generator, he said.  With two outlets.  He needed one outlet, but the other was free.  The other was ours, he said. Did we have gasoline?  That, we did.

We quickly reached for our longest outdoor extension cord, grabbed our small plastic gas can, donned our rain gear and fought the wind and rain and blackness as we unraveled the long orange cable, pulling it across the lawn and drive.  I held the flashlight while my husband filled the generator’s small reservoir with gas.  With a few tugs on the starter cord, the machine began humming, keeping chorus with numerous others that we could hear through the darkness.

I ran back to the house and down the stairs with the ever dimming flashlight.  It was 3:00 a.m.  By now there were nearly four inches of water covering the basement floor.  But I could hear the whir of the sump pump.  Old faithful was working.  And she worked.  And worked.  And worked for nearly a half hour until all that remained of the water were puddles in the low spots and some soggy boxes and area rugs that didn’t receive the benefit of our earlier rescue efforts.

Paul, who has lived alone since his wife died several years ago, came to our house and sat for a while.  In the middle of the night.  In the middle of the storm.  He had the generator.  We had the gasoline.  Until nearly daybreak, in the light of several candles, we talked about so many things aside from the storm.  But what went unsaid was how much we needed each other that night.  Not just the equipment or the fuel, but how much we needed to know that we were there for each other, that, when needed, we would pull together, sharing whatever skills and resources we possessed in an effort to bring comfort and reassurance to both households.

Though we Americans pride ourselves on living in the Land of Independence, we live in a World of Interdependence.  We may not like to admit it, but need each other.  If only we would more often share our talents, our resources, our wisdom with those around us, could we not become better neighbors, maybe even friends in the global arena, who recognize the worth and talent and value of each human being?  Could we not give of ourselves and rise above the world’s geopolitical storms and floods and darkness?   Could we – could you – be the fuel that powers the generation of better relationships in your family, in your neighborhood, in your town, in our country, in the world?  I say we could.  I say you could.  I say I can.

- Posted by Terry Fries-Maloy, MSW, LISW

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