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Saturday, November 22, 2014

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The ice storm of 2013

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Avrum Rosensweig

The little reed, bending to the force of the wind, soon stood upright again when the storm had passed over. - Aesop

The storm of 2013: it was different for everyone. And yet, it was the same thing for all of us, a pivotal time in our lives.

The ice storm. Like all difficult situations, it required people to respond in a way that was mightier than the damage the fallen trees had created. We had to be brave and giving so as not to let the tumbled branches and torn wires win. Thus, throughout the course of that wicked weather, you would see individuals shovelling wooden debris off their property and that of their neighbours. Times were not normal, and the rules we generally follow – “You stay on your side, and I’ll stay on mine” – were cast off.

Man-made borders were exactly that. Contrived. Thanks to the freezing cold winds.

During these times, we all become keepers of the story, archivists. All men, women and children now have a story to tell, an account of how they helped an old or unwell person stuck in his or her 20th-storey apartment, or how they draped their expensive quilted blanket over a suffering child.

The storm became an integral part of our city’s and our country’s narrative. We ask, “Where were you when the lights flickered and the maple trees fell? That question will stand tall forever.

It was quiet inside and out. A stench emanated from the refrigerator, and I was concerned about the well-being of my family and friends. On Day 2 of the ice storm, with no power, I was with my son and my mother, and I noticed that my mental state wasn’t great. It was dark, pitch dark like the plague in Egypt, I told my son, as we manoeuvred the black stairwell. We took advantage of the weather, the very strange, different, inclement weather, to learn from it and understand our lives as they are today and how they might have been 150 years ago, when the day ended early because it was impossible to see.

Stories abound. A friend, a Holocaust survivor living on an affluent street affected terribly by the icy cold (proof that the elements are an equalizer) – told me the following as she waited on Day 5 for her lights to flicker on. “I was in Auschwitz for three years, and every winter was like this, “ she said, referring to the harshness of the wintry Polish countryside. “Yet, I had less clothes, I was hungry and I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. But somehow we survived.”

(I was taken by the word “we.” Often survivors will begin a story with “I” and end with “we.”)

My elderly friend continued: “I thought about this during the ice storm, and it made things easier.”

The ice storm of 2013 compelled us to think about such things. How did the men, women and children who survived the Holocaust do the marches in the frigid and damp winter days?

The ice storm of 2013 made friends of all of us. Arguments subsided. While the very naughty broke into the homes of the vulnerable and chilled, thefts were down, and in a strange way, joy was up.

We live in a place where we frequently don’t know our neighbours, and that’s sad. So when the lights go off, food is limited and our socks don’t keep our feet warm enough, we warm our bones through the kindness and sharing of others.

As my son said: “Daddy, I really like this ice storm. I wish it happened all the time.” And he did, because our neighbours opened their doors and learned the name of a man who lives three metres away from us.

The ice-storm of 2013 was different for all of us, but the same thing for most – a time to experience something authentic – empathy and community.

If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.  -Mahatma Gandhi

Avrum.rosensweig@veahavta.org

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