Spiritual Life

Winter storm brings helpfulness to the neighborhood

With the combination of high winds, nearly a foot of snow and single-digit wind chill, the storm of February 9 was one of the more daunting Northwest blizzards in recent memory. After the earlier Big Freeze in the Midwest in mid-January, I suppose it was bound to be our turn.

I spent part of that snowy evening watching a marvelous TV documentary about one the positive game-changers in our lifetimes, Mr. Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. In my opinion, Mr. Rogers planted the life-giving and life-redeeming seeds of love, acceptance, truth telling and hope in the minds and hearts of millions of children.

Over the course of over 1700 episodes (and sweater changes!), I believe he helped change the course of our nation’s spirit for the good. Or in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Rogers helped to bend the moral arc of our nation toward justice and righteousness.

The next morning the winds calmed, the snowfall reduced, and best of all the sun came out!

As my neighbors and I slowly emerged to tackle the three-foot drifts, the chill on Saturday gave way to some amazing warmth on Sunday. Warmth not just from the skies freed of clouds and fog, but from the generous expressions of neighborliness and mutual help in clearing driveways and sidewalks. It was a beautiful sight in so many ways!

Fred would have been proud – I surely was!

The interesting thing is that until the recent winter storm, I had not met that many of my neighbors, beyond an occasional greeting in passing. But that day, as I shoveled with a number of folks, and observed with appreciation others generously employing their snow blowers (plus the snow-saint who used his small front-end loader to clear the berms left by the road grader), and then walked around the block, I learned names and connected people and places. It was a heart-warming day, even more than the steaming hot chocolate!

So why is it, then, that the good seems to wait until the crisis to emerge?

This is far from the first or only such occurrence, not by a long shot. I remember a poignant photo after the Oakland Earthquake when the double-deck freeway collapsed several decades ago. The photo showed dozens of people, obviously from all walks of life and previously unknown to each other, helping remove injured motorists from the upper deck down to the street and other waiting helpers.

And here’s the thing—instantly folks from who-knows-where became neighbors if only for a few moments amidst the trauma and terror. We have seen it again and again, from New York to Las Vegas, New Orleans to Paradise.

One answer to my question has been provided by the sage Mr. Rogers who said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helper. You will always find people who are helping.’” This weekend I saw that Fred’s mother was right.

Timothy J. Ledbetter, DMin, BCC is an American Baptist endorsed professional chaplain and member of Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email lluginbill@tricityherald.com.