On Sunday morning, we woke up to a 58-degree house. Which is not much colder than we USED TO keep it, but since having babies, it’s been warmer. Indeed, the discovery that the furnace had broken helped alleviate our concern about the youngest, who had been crying on and off since 3 am. Turns out he was cold.
The good news was that the high that day was predicted to be ABOVE zero — 16 degrees above zero, in fact! But since it would drop to zero that night, and since it was a Sunday and since our furnace is old enough that the one place our heating guy could get the right part was closed and no one was returning his phone calls…well, we got that basement woodstove going and started opening cabinets. We had some good passive solar going, and of course there was the requisite emergency baking (for the heat of the oven, you know), but it still seemed clear that we’d need a better strategy.
We considered turning off the water main and taking up a friend’s offer to stay with them that night, but that would have meant letting the woodstove go out, and that just seemed dangerous (my dad said to put antifreeze in every drain — yipes!). But then we thought about the offer in a different way: here were friends we like but don’t get to see all that much, offering us not just a warm dinner (and cake! CAKE!) but the whole necessary array of beds and cribs and tubs and whatnot. Maybe, we thought, we should throw ourselves on this kindness, and see if there’s more out there, too. So we called neighbors and ended up with two space heaters — enough to keep the pipes on each floor in good shape. And we knew that if all else failed, we could pack up and go in the middle of the night: not one but TWO sets of friends offered to leave a door open so we could just barrel in and find our way to a bed, no matter what the time. My favorite line from the whole experience was from our excellent neighbor Bruce said: “Whatever you need, the answer is yes.” I breathe easier just WRITING it. It felt like we were taken in and held by all this caring.
As I was telling my dad how all this went, he mentioned his stepson had a similar experience recently — his car broke down in front of a stranger’s house in the woods of New Hampshire, and they invited him and his five-year-old daughter in for warmth and cocoa. As they waited for AAA and assorted paternal types to deal with the car, these kind folks chatted with Jon and Amelia, learning a) that they live near a little lake, and b) that while Amelia has snow shoes, she does not have ice skates. So what did they do? Went and found an outgrown pair in the closet that will fit her small feet, and gave her them, asking her merely to pass them along to another little girl when she outgrows them.
We always hear about the shootings, the disease, the fistfights, the disruptions. We hear about the agony and the ecstasy, but we rarely hear about the simple kindness, the interconnection. Margaret Wheatley is right, in So Far From Home, when she says “most people don’t want to know they’re interconnected…[it] is too much of a burden. It requires that we take responsibility for noticing how we affect other people…” (p.55). And that is monstrously hard. But still, my theory is that there’s more basic goodness out there than we know. I believe that most humans want the opportunity to be kind, to be treated with kindness and to receive it with grace. Our innate generosity gets papered over with cynicism, defensiveness, and fear; our natural openness gets shut off and buried like some kind of dangerous supply line that might spurt everywhere if uncontained. And you know what? It DOES spurt everywhere. The whole world gets wet. Kindness begets kindness and our very vision begins to shift, peering as we do now through the soft rain of basic human goodness, visibility low so that we have to look at who and what are here right now. But what else can we do? Of course we look a little goofy, with our wet hair and our smiles, treating people as if they have a right to be loved. We wring ourselves out, have a laugh, and lay down in the sun to warm.