Nothing like a blast of arctic air to remind us what matters most, survival if you can and your fellow man. The past week was chilly, Maine at minus 18 on the thermometer, gusts to minus 50 in many places. Sometimes – arguably often – what matters most is right now, right here, not somewhere else.
As the freeze and arctic wind came on, a curious and uplifting sentiment circulated. Local businesses, churches, unsung charities, just neighbors caring about neighbors, asked after people, prepared with people, made last minute calls. Got heat? Got oil? Got propane? Got food? Got generator ready?
And on came the cold, rising wind, freight train tearing through the upper branches, sheets of white blowing off the ice covered lake, creaks in walls, floors, and suddenly, unexpectedly drafty doors. But still the word was out. If you lose power, call. If you need blankets, a hand, ride, or start, call.
As politicians talked, shows squawked, headlines ran, and elites dealt in flattery, ordinary people checked their furnaces and baseboards, water heaters, pellet and wood stoves, sealed cracks, latched windows, got on with the labor, and worried for their neighbors.
Sometimes an event close to home – not a new affront on our identity, culture, or values, misstep, claptrap, or dishonesty by a buffoon, not even the next Chinese balloon – takes precedence. And sometimes that is okay, not so bad, turns us toward each other again, away from being mad.
In these parts, just another slice of what you might call Heartland America, the latest arctic snap – not unlike those of our youth, if hyped more – did that. People stopped to check in on friends, big families, those alone and elderly, making sure what they could do they did and what might be needed was ready.
Of course, throughout a year, we do this a lot, whenever barometric pressure falls, weather or worry set in, concern over the health and welfare, safety and security of others triumphs over political preoccupations – but it is nice, in a curious, old fashioned, reaffirming way to see what matters rise, kindness on the floodtide, and the rest of the world’s gobbledygook set aside.
In truth, there is nothing profound or stunning about this, any more than getting kids ready for school, assuring older parents are appreciated, reaching out to a friend with an overdue call, attending a wedding, shower, or memorial, offering an impromptu lesson, suggestion, or honest tutorial.
These are just things ordinary people do, sometimes with preparation, others on the fly, prompted by weather, worry, hope, or gratitude, suddenly or (what we used to say) “by and by.” The point – the only point worth taking, pocketing for a moment when you need it is this: America is more the same, more constant, more steady and ready for getting on with life than we often know or acknowledge, quick to assure survival as we can, and look in with empathy, kindness, or just compassion on our fellow man.
So, the media’s talking heads, preening political leaders, and all that noise we hear between real news and vital facts will rise again, wane and wax. Temperatures and arctic winds will subside, retreat, and fall. That is fine too, as long as we know – always recall – America’s real strength is in caring, which we do with focus, intensity, and labor in an arctic blast, for a neighbor. We may not think so, but sometimes in the odd, cold gust of winter wind, or sudden, frozen creak of a tree there is a kind of goodness, goodness in adversity.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.