Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and fires.
There is no natural disaster that America hasn’t seen. Call it God’s wrath, climate change, or a coincidence, wherever you go a natural disaster will follow. The east coast is plagued with hurricanes and floods that the west coast must pray for during dry seasons, the tornadoes of the Midwest competing in a battle of destruction against California earthquakes. A country at war with itself politically and socially now must fight the fury of nature. From the outset America, a country so classically divided, should be no example of community and resistance in the face of a natural disaster. Our programmed thinking is geared towards the ‘work and live for yourself’ mentality, which should prevail in these times where it is man against nature. So why doesn’t it?
In fact, quite the opposite of what is expected occurs when Americans face natural disasters. We are united, in the simplest ways. Traveling through a flooded and destroyed Vermont after the record floods this July was a true testament to American unity.
On the day of July 9th and into the night of July 10th record-breaking amounts of rainfall fell onto the green mountain state leaving its residents in flooded homes, roads that were swept away by rivers and trees, and landlocked people into their homes. The state was in shambles. The power of nature had impressed me, what looked like a bad storm had done so much damage, yet it was the power of the Vermont people that fascinated me. Nature remains unpredictable, and seemingly, so do people.
While the landscape of Vermont had been utterly abused and brought to its knees by the storm, the residents seemed only empowered by the event. Neighbors were calling each other giving reports on what roads were viable and which roads were certainly impassable, this was all done over landlines as many were left without electricity, service, or wifi. The Vermont people reverted to the dark ages (before wifi) when GPS was a mom and her map giving half-correct directions to the skeptical father. Travel was dangerous and the roads unknowable, all that was known was what others graciously shared with you, otherwise you are in the dark. As much as we hate to depend on others in this fast-paced country, sometimes it’s all that can be done.
Other than the calling neighbors there were of course, the rural communities who seemingly had been preparing for this all their lives. Before the state officials and clean-up crews could get into the rural ominous areas of Vermont, anybody with a tractor or even a large lawn mower for that matter had been set into action. Trees were removed, sandbags lined the roads, and as much clean-up that could be done was done.
In the most sensical yet old-fashioned manner, Americans just took this responsibility into their own hands. Using their own tools to clean up public roads, ensuring whoever needed to could get by. It was nothing less than a beautiful thing. As many suffered power outages there also happened to be a local electrician making his way through the town. His car was undrivable, locked in by fallen trees the only way he could leave his property was on foot, but that was no obstacle for Vermonters. The electrician was conveyed from one house to the next being picked up by cars sent from his customers to ensure his speedy and safe arrival. The ultimate teamwork of the Vermont people; clean roads, fixed electricity, and the state in order again.
While it is easy to see the community-mindedness of these individuals, it is hard to ignore the fact that we are still American, and we still put ourselves first. It is likely the man using his tractor to clean up the main road only did so in order to get to his doctor’s appointment in the next town, or the electrician was only picked up by residents because they couldn’t possibly go any longer without his services. Selfish motives may in fact be the motive behind all these seemingly good-hearted endeavours.
But who cares?
If the road is clean, everyone has electricity and people are safe again, what is the harm in being selfish? Perhaps it is the greatest motivation in the world. If your selfishness works for the greater good, then it’s no longer selfish. It’s American.