I had a lot of tasks to catch up on this week before I could find time to write this. It’s a narrative of my unexpected adventure last week. Spoiler: we’re all okay now.
It’s late Monday afternoon and I’m working my noon to 9 p.m. shift at the library. I’m on a project hour, away from view of the public services desks, so I’m able to glance at my cell phone when it buzzes. My 23-year-old, who lives ~240 miles away, has been battling a virus, but felt he was over it enough to go to work. He’s messaging me for advice.
He has chest pains. Bad chest pains. Trouble breathing. Do I think he should leave work and go to the ER?
On Friday, a surprise ice storm restored my hope. I’ve been pretty discouraged about the world, humanity, and prospects for the future. Every day, it seems, the news got worse and the voice in my head proclaiming “All is lost” grew louder.Until two days ago.
An unpredicted hours-long spell of freezing drizzle hit at the worst possible time — late morning, after most people had already arrived at work or school, and right before lunch time. Nobody had prepared. Streets and sidewalks quickly became treacherous. At first, everyone thought the weather would clear up pretty quickly, so schools remained open, as did businesses, and nothing was canceled. I was lucky to be off work, but had a lunch date with a friend, to which I didn’t make it. (I drove four blocks, sliding twice, before realizing we would need to cancel.)
As the day went on, the population of cars in ditches boomed, pedestrians fell on sidewalks all over the place, our county had in excess of 200 traffic wrecks in seven hours, and people were generally stuck wherever they had been when the weather system hit. School buses couldn’t get to schools. The whole situation fit many definitions of disaster.
But here’s what else happened. My Facebook page transformed from a site of political wrangling into a feed full of locals checking on each other and updating their personal situation re: travel and weather and waiting on family members. People said to each other: “Check in and let us know you’re safe.” I saw friends reporting where they were stranded, followed by other friends saying “I’m nearby and have chains on my tires. I’m on my way.” Acquaintances shared stories of being helped by strangers.
My own firstborn was a quiet hero in their own way. They work retail in a small store in a shopping mall about three miles from our home. When a co-worker called in sick, my kid volunteered to go work so the manager wouldn’t have to drive in from his home in the country, many more miles away on even worse roads. I was worried about seeing my 21-year-old baby go risk such terrible conditions, but never more proud than hearing them say, “If I don’t go, I know my boss will try to come in instead and it will be a lot more dangerous for him. Besides, he has three kids depending him to make it back home. If I wreck, nobody else is going to go hungry over me being out of work for a while.” What is more an act of courage and love than to put yourself in harm’s way to spare someone else because they have children depending on them?
For the record, it took said offspring one hour and forty-three minutes to drive the three miles. Three miles in lines of vehicles rolling a couple of feet and then stopping for a minute. Then rolling a few feet and then stopping. And once they got to work, the food places in the mall were giving away many low-dollar menu items to mall workers and shoppers who were stranded there.
I setted in, safe in the house, but in touch with my husband, staying on at his work. In touch with various acquaintances, sharing their stories and concerns of the storm. Many parents fretted as their children remained at school for hours past the normal time, or had school buses slide off the road trying to deliver them home. The rest of the story is that school bus drivers went above and beyond in caring for the kids. And on blocks where school buses were stuck, neighbors let children into their homes and fed them. One of my friends who drives a school bus managed to transport all of her kids home, but afterward slid and got her vehicle jammed sideways across a residential street, unable to move it. The residents could have been upset with her for blocking their street, or they could do what they did — bring her dinner and hot cocoa and invite her to use their bathroom when she needed to. Later, they teamed up to spread sand and help her get the bus out.
School teachers and janitors and principals and secretaries stayed at their buildings and took care of the kids, even if they themselves would have been able to get home. They chose to stay with the children. As the evening went on, the temperature actually rose and the ice melted. At 1:00 a.m., the local school district sent out a message verifying that every child was finally home. All of the worried parents were surrounded by a bevy of friends digitally rejoicing with them that their kids were safe. Friends who had held their virtual hands and waited with them via internet connections.
For a day, a community came together and cared and helped each other. For one day, in one place, the best of humanity came out.