Hard times, emergencies make us realize we’re all in this together

Monday, June 16, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:10 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The number of devastating disasters that have occurred in so many communities, combined with the state of the economy, have created circumstances that are taking their toll on many of us. The lives of so many, either their own or that of a friend or family member, have been negatively affected. It’s at the point where it seems that almost everyone you meet has a sad story to tell.

One of the things I’ve observed in the attitudes of more people lately is a greater awareness of their own vulnerability. It’s as if they have suddenly awakened from a long dream and come to realize that they are not exempt from unfortunate experiences. People who thought they would never be caught in a tornado or a flood, never imagined that they could lose their job or home, or never dreamed they could not take a vacation every year, seemed to be abruptly struck by the previously unthinkable reality that any or all of these things could happen to them.

Could it be that we are gradually arriving at that place we have often heard about from the generation of the Great Depression and the Second World War ­— that unfamiliar location to our present generations where we are given to believe, for goodness sake, that we are all in this together? Perish the thought!

That was once the place where the working class availed themselves of the necessary education that would allow them to improve their lifestyles. That was once the place where the middle class could find a well-paying job that would assure the maintenance of a nice home and allow them to send their kids to college. That was a place where the affluent used a portion of their wealth to support libraries, educational institutions, and other facilities of benefit to the total society.

That was a place that disappeared under the wheels of a train of greed, political corruption, illiteracy and a citizenry too busy entertaining itself to protect the great bounty bestowed on them by a democratic republic. We took it all for granted.

Hopefully we can find that place again without more disasters and greater hardships. Being thy neighbor’s keeper isn’t all that hard to do in ordinary circumstances. The neighbor’s house and property should not have to be destroyed by a weather or fire event for them to discover that we are all human beings, after all. A warm greeting, a kind word and a friendly smile can let a neighbor know that you can provide a helping hand if needed. Text messaging and online chatting may provide a few moments of fun, but that’s not the kind of help you need when your home is facing foreclosure or you lose your job or your child is sick.

All those who feel that they need privacy 24 hours every day may be surprised at how welcoming the sight of a neighbor can be in an emergency. I personally learned that lesson in a real way. And I tell the story again every few years in the hope that someone will learn something from it.

Here’s the story: When I purchased my first home, I was in a neighborhood populated by white people only. This was at a time when some people were not thrilled with our presence. One stormy night, a tornado was spotted nearby and was threatening to touch down near our neighborhood. My neighbors, who had lived there for many years, knew something that we did not know. And that was the fact that ours was the only house in that block that had a full basement. Fortunately, the tornado did not strike our neighborhood, but it did considerable damage in other areas. To this day, I refer to it as the tornado that transformed a neighborhood.

In any case, I don’t think we can count on the economy getting any better in the short term. Some are warning that gasoline prices may go as high as $5 a gallon by Independence Day, which means that food and other necessities will continue to increase in cost. So, in addition to an emergency survival plan for weather emergencies, we also might want to devise emergency travel means.

By coming together as neighborhoods and community groups, we might be surprised at the kind of strategies we can put to use. I’m constantly amazed by some of the ideas people can come up with when the going gets tough. For starters, I plan to take advantage of all the public transportation available. Doing errands by bus will simply mean that I’ll have to start a little earlier. And I certainly have more time than I have money to feed the gas tank. Hopefully, too, we can get a neighborhood carpool going.

Sixty dollars for a fill-up may be fine for some, but it’s not something I want to live with. So, since our government doesn’t seem to be able to do anything to help, I guess it’s up to us to help ourselves.

Talk about smaller government? When it comes to helping it’s citizens, we don’t even know it’s there.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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