I’d almost forgotten how to ask for help.
It’s the first day of the next color of movement after the coronavirus lockdown (phase yellow), although I haven’t yet scrutinized what that really entails. (Remember all those emergency colors after 9/11? Who could keep track?) All I know is the local Hallmark store is now open, according to my latest email.
But after the past two days, for the moment, I’m not going anywhere.
On Wednesday, in the midst of the pandemic—and protests, riots and city curfews in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police officers—none other than a mini-tornado hit shortly after noon and knocked down power for miles. Inter-state, actually, from Delaware to New Jersey.
Off went my family’s links to the outside world. And because we hadn’t planned for it, phone and laptop charges were low.
We waited and waited, as the temperature steadily rose to 88 degrees. At 6 p.m., we took the ice-cream out of the freezer and called that dinner. At 8 p.m., we got a warning that another high-wind storm was coming and went to the basement, where we stayed the rest of the night, enjoying the last of the cool air in the house.
I literally watched the clock on the hour, expecting the power to come on. It did not.
At 9 a.m. the next morning, we drank the last of the milk. And then I panicked. What would happen to all of our food on another expected 90-degree day with rumors of the power not being restored for another day at the earliest? Add to that the fact that my college-age son had a take-home exam that needed to be filed by midnight.
So we sat in the car charging our phones with the air conditioner blasting away.
The library was closed, the coffee places were closed, and try as I might, I could not find an open hotel within miles.
And that’s when I knew I needed some help.
Out went the feelers and frantic phones calls—lots of them. It seemed that everyone we knew was in similar straits with no power for miles, with all bagged ice at supermarkets already bought the night before. (Why didn’t I think of that?)
Finally, we reached a family friend who had a second freezer and fridge we could use. We stuffed every inch of them. My parents asked around and got us access to an air-conditioned office building where my son could do his work for as long as it took. And my brother, also without power, emptied the food in his freezer, cooked it outside on a working gas grill and invited us for a real dinner. All while social distancing.
Just like that, the situation went from bad to good. In the end, we even turned down offers for all of us to come and stay in various homes if the situation continued. The power returned that evening to a collective “Yay!” of six very grateful people.
We adults become so self-sufficient. We tackle bills and laundry, grocery shopping and dentist appointments. We care for young kids and elderly parents. We monitor school assignments, work deadlines, play dates and now Zoom meetings. We pile so much on our shoulders, either too proud or busy or embarrassed or cynical to ask others for a bit of help.
But when it does come, we are blown away. We remember our faith in others and the natural inclination to be generous, especially in an emergency. Later, I heard that my rabbi drove two hours, dodging fallen trees and downed wires, from the outer Philadelphia suburbs to Cherry Hill, N.J., to borrow some generators for a day-and-a-half—only to make the same return trip as soon as his power returned so that someone else in need could use them.
It makes you think. It makes you humble. It makes you to want to do more for others. And it certainly makes you appreciate modern conveniences.
A family we know is moving in all this mess, and they asked my teenager to lend a hand stacking boxes, and that they would compensate him for his time. He said he’d be happy to do it—free of charge.
Call it what you want: a mitzvah, a good deed, paying it forward or just being neighborly.
As we start our new normal, we need to keep that in mind. We’re all different after this three-month, newly masked experience—hopefully, for the better. Hopefully, with a greater sense of empathy for those at risk, those still in lockdown or in quarantine, those on the frontlines, and, of course, those who are sick.
And with this newfound freedom comes the end of the stay-at-home front.
Unless, of course, we have to take this all up again in the fall …
Carin M. Smilk is the managing editor of JNS.