The morning after the storm, I headed out with the dog to assess the damage in our little neighborhood. The sky was calm and the air was eerily warm, but the street was carpeted in evergreen boughs and it certainly smelled a lot like Christmas. I started to move the largest of the branches off to the side of the street and within minutes, my entire family was outside helping. Even my four year old had grabbed her child-size rake and was dragging the littlest bits of debris into piles. Half an hour later, sweating and panting with exertion, we stepped back and admired our handiwork. At least our little bit of heaven was restored.
My husband and I spent a few minutes talking to the girls about taking pride in our neighborhood and the importance of helping out where we could. Little did we know, the lessons would keep on coming for the next seven days or so.
The next day we were taken in, along with two other families, by my sister-in-law and her partner, no questions asked. In all, there were eight adults and eight children under the age of ten in the house and our seventy-five pound dog. I made a pile of grilled cheese sandwiches and some fruit salad for the kids, the adults dined on homemade gnocci and drank wine and we all agreed it felt like a "real" Christmas dinner. The kids spent the rest of the evening playing Xbox and doing holiday crafts and we all felt blessed to be sharing in the kindness of our hosts.
Across the street, our neighbors were fortunate enough to have a generator and when they went to drop off the gifts they had purchased for the family they had adopted for the holidays and discovered a single mother and her three children struggling to stay warm with no power, they decided to adopt them more formally. The family moved in to their house with them until the power was restored.
One day I took my girls downtown to enjoy the holiday spectacle and search for Santa Claus and I witnessed some unprecedented acts of kindness on the part of shopkeepers. One harried mother with two kids whose house had been hit by a falling tree mysteriously found herself exiting the grocery store with an extra bag of goodies. Another woman who patiently waited for the short-staffed shoe salesman to help her for over an hour while her displaced children tried on fancy shoes was given an extra discount for her troubles. Strangers were trading stories of storm damage and personal difficulty and those who were more fortunate were treating others to lunch or coffee and asking how they could provide more.
Although there are still two days until December 25th, I feel that my girls and I have been given the best Christmas gift of all. We have witnessed how the people around us care about others in times of crisis. We have used our energy to do something for the collective good, no matter how small it seems, and we have benefitted from the love and kindness of others. I hope that the momentum of these actions will carry us through the next week and beyond - giving us inspiration to continue sharing our talents and riches with those around us for a long time to come.