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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Out of Power

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Out of Power

I heard the following post Hurricane story today from a friend of mine.  He was relocating his elderly mother into a local motel after she had lost power in her home.   She could not stay with him because his house has many stairs and she is not able to manage them.   While he was helping her settle in, another elderly couple pulled up to check in.  They had their belongings in garbage bags and asked for help with their "luggage."  Being a motel, there was no help offered, so my friend took their bags (literally) and carried them to their room.  He helped them with the card key lock that has long since replaced metal keys. Since they had not stayed anywhere but their own home in many decades they were not familiar with the new door lock.

He said they were so deeply grateful for his simple good deeds, sending him looks of both gratitude and pleading.  He told them they could call him if they needed any further help and gave them his contact information.  Fortunately, their house survived the storm, but they were out of power still.  And it was getting cold, especially for them, with their frail bodies and limited mobility.

There are many stories emerging from the rubble of Hurricane Sandy. This one is not especially remarkable. Like the aftermath of many disasters, there are tales of pain and loss and sorrow and there are stories of fighting over necessities, like gas for heaters or food or safe drinking water.  And there are stories of selflessness, bravery and simple acts of kindness. 

New Jersey's governor Chris Christie said, in response to people topping off their gas tanks that you "can't legislate selfishness."  He might be right, but most likely he might have been more right to say that you can't legislate fear.  Because most likely it's fear that lurks underneath most selfishness.  Fear of not being safe, or warm, or healthy.  And fear pushes us to do things we might otherwise not be so inclined to do.  Not just during disasters, but often times during daily life and within the context of our relationships.  We often act out of fear for our emotional safety, though we are not usually aware of it on the surface. 

One of the many lessons coming out of yet another disaster is that we may be out of power literally over the environment, over other people, over our feelings and desires, but we are not always out of power about how to respond.  We can shine the flashlights on what we can do. 

The unremarkable small deeds go a long way. (Not to mention that most of us feel valued and helped when someone offers to carry our "bags" once in a while). The little things count.  They count when we do them in our relationships, when we do them for someone who needs a kind word, a smile or help carrying their bags.  Even as we study our own motives and make up, and when we are hurt, deprived or angry (and those feelings count of course) or edgy about the behavior of others, we most likely will come out much more resilient and content when we shine the light on our fears, and the fears of others and power on with compassion.

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