I am here in Saratoga County, New York. My elderly parents are there, in Central New Jersey. Two weeks ago, Mom spent a week in ICU for a gastrointestinal bleed. Dad is 87. Mom is 77, but has lung disease in addition to the acute health issues she suffered recently.
Central NJ has no power, no gasoline, almost no phone service.
I am here. They are there.
So many times since Superstorm Sandy, I have had one foot in the car and one foot on the ground, willing myself to go there to help. But then, the foot on the ground pulls my body back and I head into my own dry, warm home in upstate NY and give up, defeated. How can I drive into what seems like a war zone? How can I drive four hours to a place where I might not be able to buy gas to get back home again?
On the other hand, how can I leave my parents in Central NJ?
The answer--Pete. Pete, the Good Neighbor, my parents' neighbor, the one in the house on the right as you look at their homes face on. Pete, whose 50-foot tree in the backyard fell on his house during the storm. Pete, who managed somehow to ignore his own problems and help Larry and Honey, my parents, the elderly couple next door.
Pete hooked my parents into his generator so even since the day of the Superstorm, they have had a working refrigerator and, therefore, food. Pete, who, once the temperatures dropped at night, somehow secured a propane heater for his neighbors, Larry and Honey. Pete, who, last I heard, was driving on fumes to find more fuel for himself and his neighbors.
I have heard from my parents twice since the storm--by cell phone and only for short minutes until we were cut off. I have called them probably hundreds of times, have listened to that computer voice--ALL CIRCUITS ARE BUSY--a phrase that inspires nausea and despair. But the one time my mom was able to call and get through, she told me all about Pete.
Then, just yesterday, after I called and called and called, my husband who was in another part of NY helping his own parents, got through to mine.
What do you need? he asked my mother, knowing it had to be a business call, knowing the miraculous cell service that kicked in momentarily could be lost in a second.
Understanding, my mother listed what they had, all because of Pete: food, water, and heat.
Do you want us to come get you?
No, she said, we will not leave our home.
I had heard this before.
When my husband called and said he got through to my mother, I cried. Contact is the ultimate gift in a crisis. Without it, the worst you can imagine floats through your mind over and over.
Pete. Pete. Pete. I give thanks to you and to all the other Good Neighbors out there who think of more than just themselves in a crisis. I promise, when the need arises, to pay it forward.