Rising to the occasion can be fun for daydreaming, but in the real world it rarely plays out with a fairy-tale ending. We are all capable of more than we imagine. To realize these capabilities, however, requires the hard work and practice needed to stretch ourselves. This means that we have to challenge ourselves and go beyond the limits of our comfort zone. The “snowmageddon” did just that for most of us on the Key Peninsula.
While there’s a belief that disasters provoke frenzied selfishness and brutal survival-of-the-fittest competition, the reality is that people coping with crises are actually quite altruistic.
There will always be those who are shining examples of the nonteam player: people angry that they have no power; that electricity was off for too long; angry that there were lines at the grocery store and gas station; angry that they ran out of medications; angry that no one had plowed their driveway or that people were driving too slowly.
Then there are those who without being asked called or drove or even hiked into snow-blocked roads and driveways to check on neighbors. People picking up ballots to mail, running to the store, patrolling to help motorists who were stuck, and removing trees that were blocking roadways. Community members with the means plowing roads and driveways just to help at all hours.
I saw both mentalities at work during the weather. What stood out were not those who refused to help themselves, those who took advantage of circumstances to dodge responsibility, but those who were living examples of the human spirit of giving.
We often don’t have the right language to talk about emotions in disasters. Everyone is on edge, of course, but it also pulls people away from a lot of trivial anxieties and past and future concerns and preoccupations, and refocuses us. In some ways, people behave better than in ordinary life. And in some disasters, people find the meaningful role of deep social connections and recognize their absence in everyday life.
I have a friend that was out all night helping elderly people keep their house vents clear, shoveling roofs and pulling cars out of ditches. He is from Minnesota and weather like we had “is nothing,” he said. Sadly, for some it was more than that. I hope it was taken as a gentle nudge from Mother Nature that being prepared is not a joke.
This series of storms was a drill. We had warning and time to prepare. Should the “Big One” hit, we will have no warning. The fire department is asking that people be prepared to be on their own for four days or more. Roads may be impassable. Are you ready?
During this last storm in general people did a wonderful job of being prepared and being self-sufficient. They had systems in place, water buckets ready, generators, wood and meals. They also weren’t afraid to ask for help from neighbors.
Were you tested? Did you step out of your comfort zone as you dealt with the weather?
I was put in several difficult situations, admittedly by choice, and had to get myself out. I was successful and quite honestly experienced feelings of pride and a sense of strength. Being a single mom, I think demonstrating that everyone is capable of digging deep and accomplishing things that may seem too difficult is an important lesson for my kids. They in turn were unfazed when we lost power and their electronics, and by being snowbound. Instead what I saw from them was resiliency, great attitude, willingness to step up and do things out of their norm, and good will toward their neighbors. We are all capable of this. Just know we are nowhere near the limits of our potential, and all of us are just beginning to discover our own.
For detailed information on how to prepare for disasters, go to www.fema.gov/preparedness-checklists-toolkits
Anne Nesbit is the Prevention and Public Information Officer and Volunteer Battalion Chief for the Key Peninsula Fire Department. She lives in Lakebay.
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