There was nothing remarkable, that Monday morning a few months back, that forever burned an image of the weather into my mind. Was it crisp, cool-but-not-cold, and cheerfully sunny as it had been on September 11, 2001? I don't remember. It could have been; though I think it's more likely to have been overcast and humid—the remnants of a weather system that was supposed to have delivered Tropical Storm Irene to Vermont. What a bust: As I gazed out our front window on my way out the door for work, I couldn't identify a single branch out of place, a single storm drain on the verge of overflowing, not even one wind-blown shingle.
"I'd love to be a meteorologist," I muttered to myself (and not for the first time) as I headed to a job I was sure carried more accountability than yammering in front of a blue screen on camera. "How can you possibly fumble this one?"
Chatter around the office that morning focused on the Storm that Wasn't. Some co-workers had an annoying commute to work due to a few downed trees; others had a little water in the basement; still others had lost power for an hour or two —but so what? The collective mood was one of palpable disappointment: That after all the adrenaline-fueled trips to the grocery store for batteries and food, Nothing had Actually Happened. No matter that much of the greater Burlington area was still dealing with record flooding from the spring thaw; we craved a little excitement. Irene had failed to deliver, and now, to our dismay, we actually had to get to work.
When the first reports began to trickle in, they seemed . . . if not unreal, then somewhat distant. Some roads were washed out; some basements were flooded; but—as we were learning—certain areas of the state actually had experienced significant rain overnight. In that context, the damages made sense. And while they were unfortunate, we told ourselves, things could have been far worse.
As many of you know from the national reports, they were far worse. But for those of us in Chittenden County who were chained to desk jobs and sequestered in meetings, it took until mid-day that August 29th to actually learn about it. And as powerful as the images must have been for those of you out of state, they were heart-rending for those of us in-state. Completely unpredictable flash-flooding in almost every county meant that neighbors lost homes. Friends lost businesses—some for the second time this year. The farmers we know and love lost crops, animals, and their livelihoods. Entire towns were obliterated.
And then something remarkable happened: Something you've also likely heard about. These friends, farmers, neighbors and towns stood up, looked around, and said, "What the f*&k can you do?" Then they got to work. Perhaps even more remarkable, people they didn't even know showed up to help. They built websites to organize volunteers. They brought trucks, backhoes, rakes and buckets to muck out homes. They cooked meals for hundreds of people. They offered vacation homes and spare rooms to house the homeless. The list goes on and on; and I know I can speak for more than myself when I say the reponse has been inspiring—and will continue to be for years to come when I remember how Rob's and my adopted state stood together to be Vermont Strong.
So, this Thanksgiving, as I reflect on the hundreds of blessings I have in my life, this one stands out: That in a state where residents can easily view each other through the suspicion of ideology (all of the kale-munching hippies in Burlington can't possibly have anything in common with all the hicks jack-lighting deer in the backwoods), the stereotypes fall away when it really matters. No one cares if you voted for Barack Obama or John McCain; they only care that you're a human being, and that you could use a little help. It gives me hope for the future, and is the lesson I will carry with me. Irene, you've been a royal bi-atch, but I thank you for that, and for the chance to witness, and participate in a very small way, in the resilience of the human spirit.
Wishing you and yours a safe, healthy, happy Thanksgiving focused on the gift we all are to each other.