It’s only stuff

Dec
18
2015
by
Lynne McTaggart
/
0
Comments

Amid all the fear-mongering the press has indulged in of late after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Los Angeles and London, it’s easy to overlook the good news in any calamity: the simple power and goodness of the human spirit.

Take the recent floods in the north of England where I live. Two weeks ago, around Cumbria and the breathtaking Lake District, the heavens suddenly opened and poured down the heaviest rain ever recorded in British history.

Some 13.5 inches of rain fell between 6 pm on Friday December 4 and the same time the following evening, easily breaching the special defences built by the British government after the 2005 floods had created a similar disaster.

More than 5000 Cumbrian homes were flooded and more than a hundred people drowned. The press was full of images of deluge and disaster, homes and farms under water, people scrambling out of top story windows.

Amid all the fear-mongering the press has indulged in of late after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Los Angeles and London, it’s easy to overlook the good news in any calamity: the simple power and goodness of the human spirit.

Take the recent floods in the north of England where I live. Two weeks ago, around Cumbria and the breathtaking Lake District, the heavens suddenly opened and poured down the heaviest rain ever recorded in British history.

Some 13.5 inches of rain fell between 6 pm on Friday December 4 and the same time the following evening, easily breaching the special defences built by the British government after the 2005 floods had created a similar disaster.

More than 5000 Cumbrian homes were flooded and more than a hundred people drowned. The press was full of images of deluge and disaster, homes and farms under water, people scrambling out of top story windows.

A posse of volunteers

What they largely ignored were the likes of Stephen Brown.

Brown was working at his job at the basement bar of the Glenridding hotel in Ullswater – a town in the Lake District named by the lake of the same name last Saturday evening - when the swollen river of the tiny tributary leading out from the lake burst over the bank, causing a landslide of water, grit and silt. Torrents of water burst through the doors of the hotel, heading straight for the basement.

In minutes, Brown watched as the flood rushed into the kitchen, carrying away kitchen appliances and blocking the way out. He and his fellow employees formed a human chain to help guests out to safety. And over the following four days, Brown worked tirelessly with group of volunteers to cart out gallons of filthy gelatinous mud, scrubbing and cleaning up whatever had been left behind, while a team of electricians attempted to restore power.

They had just finished, when the heavens opened again the following Wednesday, with a similar deluge of rain. Volunteers had been working to dredge the mud and silt that had formed under a bridge immediately outside the town, but the stream banks burst again, water gravel and mud began pouring into town and made their down the steps of the hotel and into the basement bar again.

This time, though, the freezing water and debris also made their way through to his parent’s grocery store and a small group of nearby flats used by hotel staff – including Brown’s flat on the ground floor.

“So that’s my business flooded, my home flooded, my parents flooded,” he said. “Bloody disaster.”

The disaster was all the more galling because Britain’s Environment Agency had designated Ullswater as a ‘hot spot’ for flash flooding and supposedly had created an adequate flood defense.

Nevertheless, during the crisis, the townspeople of Ullswater came together in a way they hadn’t before. One pizzeria in Kendal donated free pizzas to those who’d been evacuated from their homes and were huddled together in the town hall, and a Tasty Hogs company donated half a roasted pig. Supermarkets offered free meals; a leisure center opened up for free beds. Firemen helped to save 120 sheep by easing them into rowboats.

And to Stephen Brown’s amazement, new volunteers showed up at the Glenridding to clean it up for the second time round.

The happy wake of Hurricane Sandy

This experience reminds me of the days after Hurricane Sandy hit lower Manhattan, leaving most of Avenue C in the East Village in Manhattan under water. Zachary Mack, co-owner of Alphabet City Wine Company, wrote that no business along his street had been spared.

Within minutes of Zachary’s arriving at his wrecked store on the Tuesday, the day after the Con Ed transformer exploded, a group of three regulars showed up with flashlights and trash bags. “What do you need us to do? How can we help you?” they said.

Before long, Alphabet City Wine Company, open for business by candlelight, had become a command center, where neighbors and other business owners met and made plans. Strangers offered dry clothing to those who were soaking wet; chefs coordinated vast neighborhood cookouts to feed those locals in need for free; groups gathered around a battery powered radio for updates. Morale was higher than it had been before the storm.

Every morning, the neighborhood would gather, drink hot chocolate provided by another business owner and formulate the day’s plans: who’d find gas for those cars still working; who needed to drive people to find shelter; who would be assigned the task of finding batteries or candles. By the following day, said Zachary, the residents had created a makeshift community center.

“Neighbors were meeting for the first time, passing information. Kids were playing with one another. People were shouting out random bits of news from their incoming texts or Twitter feeds. And probably best of all: locals installed a bike-powered cell phone charging station. Complete strangers sat and pedaled to give their neighbors the juice they needed to get back up and running,” he wrote.

When the basement of one of the neighbors filled up with water, he was surrounded by locals who’d stopped working on their own repair jobs to help out.

“Whatever preconceived notions others have about the spirit of community on New York City, I know that I’ll never forget the way I feel today.

“The people sitting next to me in Brooklyn tell me they look at the news and they sense desperation. I’m here to tell you that things have never looked or felt better on Avenue C.”

And up in Ullswater, after this double disaster, Brown remained sanguine, insisting that the wreckage around him isn’t what’s ultimately important. “Oh, we’ll get on. We’ve survived. It’s only stuff.”

Disaster brings us together and unearths the hidden community that is always there – it gives us a cogent reminder this holiday season that the things most sacred to us are more than just ‘stuff.’

It’s the people who’ve got your back when the going gets rough. And don’t ever forget: there are so many of them out there.

Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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