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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The kindness of strangers-Blizzard edition

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog entry about the kindness of strangers (see Having survived the Blizzard of '67 as a young teenager, I was struck with the way in which neighbors helped neighbors, and strangers helped strangers.

While life is much more contentious now, with Congress routinely passing legislation that disenfranchises individuals while empowering corporations, I am struck by the ways in which communities and individuals still do what they can to help out others. Here's my earlier blog entry:
In the New York times today, Ted Gup penned an article about the kindness of strangers during the Great Depression:

IN the weeks just before Christmas of 1933 — 75 years ago — a mysterious offer appeared in The Repository, the daily newspaper here. It was addressed to all who were suffering in that other winter of discontent known as the Great Depression. The bleakest of holiday seasons was upon them, and the offer promised modest relief to those willing to write in and speak of their struggles. In return, the donor, a “Mr. B. Virdot,” pledged to provide a check to the neediest to tide them over the holidays.

Not surprisingly, hundreds of letters for Mr. B. Virdot poured into general delivery in Canton — even though there was no person of that name in the city of 105,000. A week later, checks, most for as little as $5, started to arrive at homes around Canton. They were signed by “B. Virdot.”

continued "Hard Times, A Helping Hand":

In the communities around the North Shore of Chicago, as well as around the country, there are many who have known difficult times as well as those who like to discretely help those who are less fortunate. Your gifts to others do not have to be financial. Perhaps you can read to a shut-in, tutor a student, drive someone to a doctor's appointment, invite someone to dinner, or make books accessible for those who have print disabilities. What can you do?

Blizzards and other big events are great for reminding us all that "random acts of kindness" can still grow like a rolling snow ball into making a difference, even though it often seems that one small act cannot bring about change. A snow ball grows bigger as it rolls down the hill. Voices can snow ball, too, especially with social media. One voice, 2 voices, 4 voices, 16 voices, 256 voices, 65536 voices, and so on can grow into change against hunger, homelessness, and legislative disenfranchisement.

Using social media to speak out about political disenfranchisement is bringing about change in Egypt. While I still believe that our current Constitution is fixable, I believe we must speak out against the Congressional members who continue to put forth legislation that disenfranchises entire groups of individuals, continues to disenfranchise entire families and communities. These Congressional members swore to uphold the Constitution, yet they repeatedly pass legislation denying entire classes of people equal protection and privacy. They deny equal protection and privacy by passing DADT (#DADT) and DOMA (#DOMA), repeatedly pass legislation denying equal protection and privacy of women by interfering with their private medical decision-making, and pass legislation that denies separation of church and state by allowing certain religious groups to define what aspects of a person's equal protection and privacy the government will protect. These Congressional members in essence are beholden to the special interests represented by lobbyists, yet these huge "contributions" are never represented as the bribes that they are, bribes that color the equal protection that every individual within this country, citizen and noncitizen alike, is supposed to have by default. Fears of whistleblowing and retalliation will go away when enough people speak out and hold corrupted officials accountable.

And so, let this blizzard be a reminder of the humanity, of the power of individual random acts of kindness, and of the power of one person to bring about change. Be the change.

Gandhi stated, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Margaret Meade stated, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Speaking out about injustice is every individual's equal right and every person's obligation.

What acts of kindness have you done today?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Midwest Edition: Where were you in the Blizzard of '67?

As Chicago braces for the Blizzard of 2011, I am reminded how communities came together during the Blizzard of 1967. Entire blocks of neighbors helped neighbors, sharing what they had, shoveling for those who could not shovel for themselves.

Now that I'm a mom instead of an eighth grader, my focus has shifted from "Yippee, no school, bring on more snow" to worry and attempts to pass on cautionary blizzard wisdom to young adult sons who still believe they know it all.

As an eighth grader during the blizzard of '67, I remember roads being completely closed because the plows could not keep up with the drifting snow. Our family used a sled to trek to the grocery store for milk and bread. My siblings and I shoveled snow for the widow next door. I think the blizzard started on a Thursday, but it took so long to clear the streets that businesses and schools did not open until the following Tuesday. Although the blizzard came in January, vestiges of the piles of dirty snow remained until March or maybe even early April.

I have heard many blizzard stories over the years of how emergency personnel, sleeping on cots in hospitals (both because they could not get home and new shifts could not get to the hospitals) still managed to find ways to pick up dialysis patients who needed hospital treatment.

Do you have survival tips to pass on to those who are blizzard newbies? Do you have a blizzard story (past or present) to share? If you email me at, I will try to post your stories as I am able.