My son-in-law, a tiny speck among the white-out world around him, walked miles with only inches of visibility during the worst blizzard in the history of Buffalo, struggling to reunite with his wife and 19-month-old son.
There are tiny insects in this world that measure only 0.005 inches long. Compared to the vast scope of the storm, he was like a microscopic insect crawling through a frozen feather pillow.
I asked them not to come, to change their plans. Not because of the storm. The danger I imagined in the airports — cancelled flights, crowds, viruses everywhere, people desperate to be united for the holidays with family after years of separation.
It wasn’t worth the empty anxious pain in my core. No matter how old my children, fear for their safety comes fast and lingers long. Something bad can happen. This time it did.
Young families are experiencing escalating costs. When the storm began, my daughter asked the rental car agency if they could have an extra day to return the car.
“No matter the conditions, you have to return the car by 6 p.m. or you will be charged $250 every day thereafter.” My son-in-law decided to take the risk and avoid this extra expense.
The stories of neighbors helping neighbors, and altruistic sacrifices aren’t always duplicated by corporate America.
His destination was seven miles away. Driving barely eight miles an hour, it would have taken him approximately one more hour to arrive at the car rental establishment had he not skidded into a deep ditch. The car had a half tank of gas, enough to keep the car idling and warm for 12 hours. He would have died much sooner since, at the rate the snow was accumulating and the depth of the ditch, soon the tail pipes would be covered, causing carbon monoxide to poison the interior of the car. At least his cell phone had service and battery. My daughter called 911, the police and fire department. She was told they could not attempt a rescue since, at that point, the rescuers too were stranded and they needed to be rescued.
After trudging through the 50-miles-an-hour wind, my son-in-law found shelter in someone’s private home and was able to call his terrified wife. Not for long. His phone ran out of battery. No chargers were available. They were separated for two-and-a-half days. Not what they planned.
My daughter was in a hotel without enough food and too few diapers. At least a complimentary breakfast of dry cereal and waffles was available.
Managing the child, the stroller, balancing the dropping plates of breakfast leftovers was a challenge. In the dining area were lots of other people. No one offered to help her carry the food to her room so she could feed her child for the rest of the day. Maybe they did not notice her struggle, since most of the other guests in the dining area were engrossed on their cell phones. Meanwhile, heroic acts were happening outside. The magnanimity of a natural disaster can bring out our best selves.
As stunning as the huge acts of heroism are, the small acts are even more astounding since they are scarcer. We miss so many daily opportunities to be aware enough to lend a helping hand.
The rental car, abandoned in the ditch was tea-boned by a plow truck and demolished. After two days, my daughter received an automatic charge of 2000 dollars for not returning the car within the first 24 hours.
The NYS Thruway in Erie County is closed. My daughter, husband, and baby were planning to drive from Buffalo to New Paltz. It might not be possible. I haven’t seen those dear ones in a year. We made so many plans, imagining happy long-awaited moments of family joy and togetherness.
My mother had a grab-bag of aphorisms, her favorite being, “Man plans. God decides.”
I prefer to learn from the great philosophical truth expressed by Mel Brooks in the comedy classic “The Two Thousand Year Old Man.”
Carl Reiner asked the Two Thousand Year Old Man how was God discovered.
“We didn’t know any God. We worshiped Phillip, our leader.
“Who was Phil?”
“He was very big. Very strong. A big beard, big chest, big arms. I mean, he could knock you out, so, we did everything he asked.”
“And you revered him?”
“Yes. We prayed to him.”
“How long was his reign?”
“Oh, not too long. Because one day, Phillip was hit by lightning. and we looked up, we said, ‘There’s something bigger than Phil!’ “
To all plan makers, dreamers, and wishful thinkers, remember: “There’s something bigger than Phil!” Humility before the force of nature!
All we can do is pick up what another human drops, flush the toilet when the stranger before you forgot. Small and big kindnesses are within our control when so much else it not.