It was Wednesday, a little before 7 p.m. I was stoking a fireplace fire I’d just learned how to make the day before, when the lights came back on in my home.
They’d been missing for almost five days…
I found myself overcome by emotion. My family would not have to be cold one more night. Soon, there would be hot water for showers. My tropical fish, which had gone days and days without filtration, aeration, and consistent, 78-degree salt water, would live.
I’d never felt more grateful.
Later that evening, I had to drive to Walmart for an aquarium heater, as mine had failed. I yelled “Thanks” to the line crew who drove from Wyoming to restore our power and was now hard at work to make someone else’s night.
I had assumed that everyone’s power had returned to West Linn when ours had, but I was wrong. Large swaths of West Linn folks, some just a couple of blocks away, would be enduring at least one more night of being cold and dirty, adding to the psychological damage that already had exacted a weighty toll.
The ice storm that ravaged our town, and its aftermath, brought out the best in our neighbors – we communed to clean up a large tree that fell across our street, shared food, hot water, and shoulders to lean on. The storm also brought out the best in me. I worked tirelessly to ease my family’s burden and make them as comfortable as possible. I also worked round the clock to save my fish.
When I awakened Saturday morning to no electricity, my first thoughts were about the fish. They had entrusted their lives to me and were now the most vulnerable living creatures in my innermost circle. How would they survive?
I decided that they had to survive. So I oxygenated the water by hand every hour, boiled hot water to keep the fish from freezing, and wrapped the tank with blankets and comforters. On Monday afternoon, when I was able to get a car on the road for the first time since Thursday, I searched stores for generators, battery packs and anything else that would make their survival more likely. I found a couple of battery-powered air stones that would bring bubbles to my tank. They didn’t solve my problem, but they helped. Above all else, they represented hope. Hope that my fish would survive. Hope that we would all eventually return to our normal day to day existence.
During this ordeal, my thoughts also went to those for whom food insecurity, and the inability to stay clean and warm, is an ever present part of their lives. My family was inconvenienced for five days and it took an incalculable emotional toll. Many of our fellow Oregonians struggle with this every single day. It is unrelenting and it is tragic.
Many are children in our public schools. Some are athletes attempting to compete at far less than 100 percent. It is shameful that they don’t have a level playing field. In sports or life.
So, while today I am practicing gratitude for the return to the creature comforts of my own life, I also pledge my time to help others who are not so fortunate.
I saved the fish. I now want to do more.
Who will join me?
[“Alphabet Stories” will return on Monday]