Friday, January 29, 2010

Snow and Chocolate

Twenty-ten. Late last December I yearned for the new year and without realizing it, was also waiting for a new decade. Then it arrived. We ushered in twenty-ten with family in New England. Playing games by the fireside. Enjoying our youngest grandbaby. A few moments before midnight, our daughter remarked that oops, nobody had thought to bring funny glasses or party hats. This set us off in a flurry of catching up. With five minutes to go, she created strange additions (from a child's puzzle) to her glasses frames while I grabbed a pile of newspapers and began folding. I should have sent someone off for the masking tape, but no time, no time. When the year turned over, it found us with semi-folded newspapers on our heads and riotous laughter shaking our bodies. To the onlooker, surely these people were missing a few essential nuts and bolts.

We returned home to Pittsburgh with a warning about lake effect snow, which caused us to travel a more southerly route. Once home, it snowed and snowed and snowed. Every day for thirteen straight days, snow fell in Western Pennsylvania. We never got a big pile, just an inch or so. I'd wake up to covered walkways and grab the broom, but by afternoon, I needed to sweep again. Somehow, this gradual, grey, small flurry and flake storm accumulated to more than a foot on the patio table. Creeping, sneaky.

There was nothing slow or gradual about what came next in this new year. Haiti was shaken, broken, devastated. In seconds the built landscape flattened, burying homes, roads, and most tragically thousands of people. The actual numbers are not known, will never be known. And that uncertainty must haunt the survivors. Did friends, family, neighbors, children survive? And if they died, where, how, how painfully? Will supplies ever arrive? Will I have a roof before the rains come? Will aid come in time to help heal the wounded? How many more will die? In the midst of such enormous disaster, we in Pittsburgh witnessed a small miracle--the evacuation of 54 orphaned children, already in process of joining new families when the quake struck. From farther away we read of survivors rescued after more than a week of entrapment. Tiny flickers and flares of hope amidst the ruins.

It felt odd, then, to travel to Hershey PA for a weekend library event. To visit Chocolate City, where they give you a candy bar as you check into your hotel, while in the Caribbean, people were desperate for food and water. Odd to spend an hour watching our two small grandsons splash in a large indoor swimming pool while some people can't find a drop of clean water. Odder still to sit in that hotel lobby and watch 60 beauty queens from all over Pennsylvania vie for the title of Miss Grange of Pennsylvania. Lovely girls, in beautiful dresses with proud parents and grandparents cheering them on. While in Haiti, families mourn their losses, scramble for a shirt, for shoes. And yet this too is a flicker of hope--a promise that young people will continue to grow and survive despite the challenges that surround them.

As we reach our hands into our pockets to aid and support the thousands in crisis, those same hands can applaud the proud moments of strong young women in triumph. Our hands, our hearts, these are versatile tools--and it is our task to use them well, to stretch and grow them and use them in all sorts of ways--to dry tears, to fan flickers of hope into flame, to sweep snow, to unwrap chocolate.

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