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Then and now

On September 11, 2001, after spending hours and hours and hours compulsively watching the same video coverage again and again and again on TV, I picked up litter in the alley while taking Willow for a walk. It was such a small thing, but it made me feel inordinately better. I was doing something, anything to help make the world a better place.

When I finally went up to my attic office and got online that evening, I savored the small-world phenomenon of Philip Chee in Malaysia being the first person to post about the 9/11 tragedy on rec.arts.sf.fandom. His "TURN ON YOUR TV now!" post was the first of nearly 1400 on the thread about the 9/11 attacks.

In the days after that, I derived even more comfort and satisfaction from being able to help coffeeem as she began recovering from two broken elbows at Adam & Betsy Stempel's home a handful of blocks from Toad Hall. Emma stayed there until planes were flying again and she could get home to willshetterly in LA.

A decade and several natural disasters of far greater magnitude later, another dog, Milo, was with me here at Toad Woods when the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. Yesterday while walking him, I found a piece of paper that looked like it might be important. The last name on it was the same as on the mailbox nearest the park area we were walking in.

While it's not my home, my neighborhood, the way the alley was in 2001, their house is on the land that was one of the Squier homesteads back in the 1800s. I have a newfound sense of belonging, of ownership that came with that knowledge. That pond across the fields and down the hill is Squier Pond. My very distant cousins harvested ice from it when they lived there.

The paper was wet, no one was in sight at the house. I thought of leaving the paper in the mailbox, but I'd seen a person out the day before and knew I'd be coming back, so I left the sheet on the front seat of my car to dry out. At worst case, I could mail it to them on Monday.

Today, a woman and man drove in and were unloading groceries as Milo and I finished our walk. I stopped at the end of the drive and got out of my car.

"Hello" I called out as the woman returned for a second load of bags.

"Are you lost?" she asked. It was the most likely scenario given the stranger and the dead-end road.

"No." I mentioned walking the dog, and that my ancestors the Squiers used to own the land as I walked up to her with the sheet of paper. Holding it out, I explained that I'd found it the day before, pointing the couple hundred yards away to where it had been. "It looked important."

Indeed, it was. The relief and joy on her face was profound. She'd been looking all over for it, unaware it had blown away.

I shared her smile, and the hug she reached out to give me in thanks.

Hugs between strangers in New England are not what I've grown used to these past seven years.

I walked back to the car, waving goodbye and calling out "you're welcome" when the man called out his thanks, too. (He returned for another load as I was walking away.)

It was another small thing: a thoughtfulness, a connection between strangers, a momentary action that helped make the world a better place. It's so tiny in the face of so much need, but our collective well-being is made up of millions, of billions of such moments. They don't begin to offset the sheer tragedy pictured in lsanderson's post showing the parents who found their daughter's body in a driving school car following the tsunami, a tragedy repeated again and again across Japan. But it was something I could do, something I did do, and it left me feeling better today just as picking up litter in the alley and helping Emma helped me feel better in the face of tragedy a decade ago.

debgeisler has an excellent post Doing what we can to help the relief efforts in Japan. Here at home and around the globe, may we all unite in helping make the world a better place in whatever ways we can. And may we take comfort, satisfaction, and even joy in our ability to do so.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 13th, 2011 11:59 pm (UTC)
Here's another comforting story: A 60-year-old Japanese man who was swept 15 kilometres out to sea in the tsunami was plucked to safety yesterday after being spotted clinging to wreckage http://is.gd/C1fjen
Mar. 14th, 2011 03:07 am (UTC)
I have whenever necessary walked misdelivered mail over to neighbors' houses, one time half a mile away (same house number, totally different street). Just as easy, faster, and more secure than returning it to the post office. Usually I leave it in the mailbox, but sometimes I need to ring the doorbell.
Mar. 14th, 2011 08:17 pm (UTC)
Beautifully said. Thanks.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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