After the Flood

During the past couple days, I've been counting up what we lost in the flood: making lists of the books we lost, figuring out what CDs need replacing, checking which furniture is too damaged to use again. But this entry isn't about what I lost in the flood; instead, it's about what I gained.

In the days after the flood, as word got out to friends and colleagues about what had happened, we realized just how many people we have out there who are willing to support us. So many offered to help (though, overwhelmed and uncertain what needed to be done, we didn't take most of them up on the offers): my friend Colleen brought dinner over for us; my advisor offered basement space for our furniture and suggested that we could stay at her house when she was out of town; friends and colleagues checked in often, made sure that we were ok, asked what we needed.

We spent Thanksgiving - three days after the flood - at the home of two of our best friends, surrounded by people we love. The atmosphere (and the food) buoyed our spirits, reminded us of the community we have here, the friends who've become family, the people we know we can count on.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, we went to a local art fair, as we do every year, to find "our" jeweler, Charles Skiera - a local artist whose jewelry we really like. Our first Christmas, TOAO gave me some of Skiera's jewelry, and his jewelry has been involved in every Christmas since then, too. Since he doesn't have a store, we only see him at the fair, once every year. Every year, he not only recognizes us, but remembers what we do, asks us how we're progressing toward our degrees, and we talk about our lives and what's new in his life.

This year, when he asked how we were, I said, "Well, in general good, but right now, not so hot - we got flooded this week." He was sorry to hear it, and we talked for a bit about the flood and the damage to our house. Then, as we were looking at his work, he told me to pick something out for myself, anything; it would be a gift, because we'd had such bad luck this week.

We wanted to buy a couple pieces of jewelry from him anyway, but he insisted that I pick out one thing for myself, for the flooding, and so finally I did. (And when I picked it out, he even asked me if I was sure I didn't want "something nicer," that is, something more expensive!)

The necklace that he gave me has been a talisman to me the past few weeks; it's beautiful (as is, really, all his work), and when I wear it, touch my hand to it, it reminds me that regardless of what bad luck we may have, we don't have to face it alone.

And that same week, I had the chance to offer my help to someone else who needed it, sending a winter coat to a child on the Pine Ridge reservation. Pine Ridge is in South Dakota, and not only is it one of the poorest areas of the country, it's also among the coldest. The coat drive, organized by a woman online, tapped into the power of community too - even though, in this case, that community didn't exist in any physical sense. The kids whose names were on that woman's list - about 170 of them - needed coats, and so people from all over the world sent coats to Pine Ridge, because the kids were cold, and because that's what you do. If someone needs help, and you can help, that's what you do. (And being without a coat in the South Dakota winter is a much tougher thing than having a few inches of water in your house in Texas.)

Then, this week, after making a list of the books we lost (close to 200 of them) and deciding which ones we really needed to replace, we set up a wish list at amazon.com at the request of TOAO's mother. TOAO mentioned the list on the online discussion board he frequents, and to our surprise (and joy), people responded almost immediately, buying books or, in one case, sending TOAO an incredibly generous gift certificate. Some of these folks read his weblog, others know him only from the comments section of other people's sites; he's never met any of them. But he's part of their community, and they gave what help they could, be it kind words or books, and it meant a great deal.

So there it is, what we've gained from the flood: a stronger sense of community, of being connected and cared for. We know that we don't need to face any of this alone - and we also know that we can and will continue to take care of others, too, and be there for those who need us.

And now I'd probably better go and continue the cleaning process, because I can feel myself about to get very sappy, and as a responsible member of the community, I feel I should at least spare you all the sap!

 

14. December 2004

 

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