Early morning, December 1, 2011–After the fifth blaring siren of the night and too many things going thump in the dark, I decided if I was going to sleep I needed my ear plugs. As I was digging through my dresser drawer, my daughter came bursting into the room like Friedrich and Kurt Van Trapp. Before I could start singing Raindrops on Roses, an extra large thud jolted my husband awake, and we cautiously opened the blinds to discover our palm tree crashed into our patio trellis. The Santa Ana winds were at hurricane force and Temple City was in chaos.
As my danger-loving Dan made the reckless decision to climb up on the roof and saw off the palm fronds to reduce wind resistance (and hopefully save the patio roof,) Rachel and I made our way cautiously to the living-room to watch the blowing of transformers in the distance. The fluorescent blue-green explosions were reminiscent of end-of-the-world horror movies, and as another tree blew over in our front yard and our basketball goal toppled hard, we wondered if maybe the world might actually end before 2012.
Somehow exhaustion took over around 4 a.m., and we all fell back asleep on the couch until we were awakened soon after sun up by a knock on the front door. Our neighbor had come by to tell us that the remnant stalk of our palm tree was leaning threateningly toward our house. Within ten minutes, another neighbor was over with a climbing rope attempting to tether the leaning trunk to a more solidly rooted object. Before long the entire block was venturing out in their pajamas to survey the damage. The families down the alley behind us were helping the elderly lady next door reconstruct her fence that had blown asunder. People were gathering around the trees that had blocked the road, pushing and pulling them to the shoulder. The hum of chain saws began a chorus of hope as good Samaritans in large trucks began driving around and offering their services to those in need, asking only for us to “pay it forward.”
Before long I had six neighborhood children at my breakfast table (as I had a gas stove that I could light with a match), and we had pancakes and whipped cream for breakfast. We did a little group trauma therapy, telling stories of our terrifying night, and then they were off on their scooters to survey the damage at their schools (which were cancelled for the day!) My kids spent the whole day playing with children who lived only a few houses up the street, but with whom they had only exchanged hellos for the last seven years. We had no electronic distractions available, so they jumped on the trampoline, played board games and ate as much refrigerated food as they could stomach.
We were without power for 55 hours that weekend, but there was a source of energy that came forth from the heart and soul of the community. Street crews and power guys worked round the clock to get our community back on the grid. People called and stopped by the house and checked in on Facebook. I felt blessed to have such great foul-weather friends.
One neighbor brought me a ½ gallon of fresh milk when my refrigerator failed. I took grilled salmon to a family because my entire freezer had defrosted. It was delicious to bring savory smelling dinner to friends for no particular reason, and I realized how often I have become complacent in my out-reach efforts, living quietly within my own self-contained bubble. Sure, I nod and smile when someone drives by, but even our best efforts of inviting neighbors over for breakfast have been thwarted by schedule snafus. Yet bring on World War III and you have neighbors bringing you milk and ice and offering to save your house from imminent doom. I had one of the best weekends of my life recovering from the So Cal storm of the century. I got to know my community through a new lens and with new eyes.
And it reminded me that, as awful and as scary as the storms of life are, there is also something deep and rich about weathering them together. I think about my times with my closest friends and some of the “best” memories have been times when we’ve circled the wagons and faced the onslaught with camaraderie, commitment and courage. Foul-weather friends are those that stand through the wind and the rain, the divorces and the job losses, even in sickness and in death. Foul-weather friends know when to bring over another casserole, send you a silly text message, or just sit quietly over a cup of tea. Somehow it makes foul-weather feel sacred rather than scary. Because if life was only full of fair weather, how would you ever know the truth of friendship?
I hope that when I look back decades from now and belittle a current storm system which was “Nothing compared to The Storm of 2011!” I will not only remember the destruction, but will also remember the construction. The building of relationships and the bonding of neighborhoods.
Speaking of which, the front doorbell just rang and one of DJ’s new “foul-weather friends” just stopped by to play. They ran outside at full speed with their laser tag guns. I’m smiling. It’s good to know that foul-weather friends even come around when it’s fair.