This past week most of us have had our regular routines upended by the threat of a major hurricane coming ashore in North Carolina. Long gas lines, busier than normal traffic, empty shelves at grocery and home improvement stores fueled a collective unease. Hurricanes are serious business. They can cause loss of life, destroy homes and property, shatter communities and scar lives.
The threat certainly warrants our attention. Tense times fray patience and lead us to do dumb and often regrettable things. However, the opposite is also true. Tense times also bring out the best in people.
For much of the last few days Interstate 40 has been filled with travelers many of whom were escaping the coast. The influx of coastal North Carolinians has led to traffic delays, especially during rush hour. As I’ve traveled these roads several times this week, I’ve found drivers to be more civil and patient than normal. I think most of us knew what was happening and the difficult plight of many of those riding in cars among us.
You may have heard the story of the woman in Wilmington who earlier this week went to a home supply store to buy plywood to board up her beach house. She ended up paying for plywood for complete strangers. If you were in the stores earlier this week, I think I wasn’t the only one to notice a little more order and friendliness in the stores. Yes, the lines were long – longer than I’ve ever experienced. Yet people were orderly, patient and even helpful. I recall some individuals telling others where they could find generators, sandbags or lumber – items that are sold out at most stores.
Is this spirit of kindness and concern exclusive to North Carolina? I don’t think so. Before moving to North Carolina in 2007, I lived most of my life in Wisconsin and Virginia. I found that in both places before or after a winter snowstorms people often more readily checked-in on neighbors, shoveled driveways without being asked and exhibited a greater overall concern for their neighbors.
Why is the need for collective misery or hardship a requirement to inspire the best in many of us? I and others have asked the question many times. I don’t understand and I doubt that I ever will. I do think however it says more about us, than our circumstances. As trying as hurricanes and snowstorms are, those countless acts of kindness, sacrifice and service help us to make it through. If it’s possible, they give many of us good memories of a bad time. I hope those memories of kindness inspire all of us to be patient and neighborly to those around us in the coming days. The opportunity will be as great as the need.
Be kind and be safe.