I've been listening to the great Bob Dylan song, "Shelter from the Storm" and its deeply religious and human message. Life is so often filled with trouble, and all of us can be "burned out from exhausting," walking "a road full of mud." Life isn't about avoiding trouble -- it has a way of finding us no matter how well we plan ahead or avoid risks that sit in plain sight. We all need shelter from the storm.
Life is largely what we do when the road becomes muddy. If you are lucky, as I have so often been, you will have friends and family there with you, ready to pull you out of trouble. I remember driving in a terrible rainstorm up in the hills of Vermont with my wife one November afternoon, not being able to see more than a few feet in front of me because of the rain and fog. Driving through that was a terrifying ordeal for both of us, and I literally felt my heart racing as I tried to take deep breaths and stay calm at the wheel. When I ended up falling down a shallow roadside ditch, a truck driver pulled over, put chains on my car, and pulled me out. I made it back to Boston, but that remains the scariest ride of my life.
It's been much worse for the millions of people impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. What has gotten those people through the worst? They turned to each other, to family and friends, and helped where they could. Connection and community are everything in these life-threatening situations. We turn to each other when problems arrive, not on each other. We choose to help, because that's what people have done for millenia.
I have a dear friend who's retired and living near Miami. He's one of the most supportive, most positive, and wisest people on the planet. More than anyone, he helped me gain the self-confidence to start my own writing business, and I'll be forever grateful to him for that. Anyway, he's become one of my closest friends and my most trusted mentor. I've been calling him every other day for the last week or so to check up on him. I was happy to hear him tell me that he'd be staying with friends nearby as Hurricane Irma hit. This is a man with a gift for making connections, and I'm glad he fell back upon those connections at a time of real danger.
I spoke to him last night and he said his house had held together and, although he'd been afraid and stressed out (as I was for him), he was ready to start putting the pieces back together again to his everyday life. I thank God for these moments, because I need this inspiring, wise man in my life.
Politicians aren't the people who care for us in a crisis. Turning to them for help is foolhardy. What keeps us safe is human connection, the acts of kindness, small and large, that we show to each other every day. The best insurance comes from community, and always has. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have reminded us of this perennial truth. And while millions in the path of those two terrible storms begin to rebuild their lives, we are a nation that needs to re-learn how to build trust. A house divided against itself, to borrow a phrase from Abraham Lincoln, can be easily broken by winds and storms. It is NOT a shelter from the storm.
We can be stronger as a nation, and must be, but we have to begin by "tilling our own garden," as Voltaire put it, to nurture connections with those around us -- our friends, our families, our communities. You don't have to wait (alas, you will wait in vain) for the President or Congress to get along before you can get along with those around you. When the wind blows and the rain pours down, and it's only a matter of time before the roof shakes, the only real shelter you have is connection. Whether you tend to that garden or not is your choice, but I know how important connection is to me.