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Sandy was a grim and terrible tragedy, but it is the nature of things that it was also something else: a beacon illuminating the selflessness and heroism of so many of our brothers and sisters.

Years ago, a natural disaster of far less force cast a cloud of darkness and despair over my family, and revealed heroism in the most unlikely of places.

I posted the following on the paid boards, under a prior name, a couple of years after that unforgettable night. But I owe a debt that will never be repaid, and learned a lesson that will never lose relevance.

So, as yet another payment on that undiminished debt, and as a tribute to the heroes who emerged in this latest tragedy, I am reposting that prior post here. If you read it before on the paid boards, I apologize and ask your indulgence. Some things deserve to be said more than once.

And, Homer, now a few more people will know your true stature.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This post has to do with how we view people and how we treat people, and with the distinction between our abstract beliefs and the way we live our everyday lives. But that is pretty general. Let me tell you about Homer.

Homer is an East Asian guy, single, very smart, who made a lot of money in Silicon Valley and then, for some unfathomable reason, decided to buy a vacation home up on the top of our ridge. I would love to know the chain of events that led to that decision, but have never asked him.

Homer stands maybe 4’10” tall, and I doubt that he even weighs 100 lbs – hardly “Homeric” proportions! I asked him how he got his name, and he replied, “It’s common for Asians to pick a westernized name, often from the classics or from something like the American Revolution, to use as an American name. So I picked the great epic poet, Homer, not realizing that there was a hit TV series called ‘The Simpsons.’”

And, trust me, Homer has suffered from this ill-advised choice. (It probably does not come as a shock to you to hear that the average citizen of West Virginia is more likely to associate the name “Homer” with Bart and Lisa than with Achilles and Hector.) Everything he says is met by a chorus of “D’ohs” – a joke that never seems to get old, at least for those of us not named “Homer.”

Anyway, although Homer is very smart, he is a huge pain in the patootie (to use technical West Virginia terminology). He believes the strangest stuff, much of it offensive, and is happy to spout his nonsensical theories at any opportunity. You listen to him and pretty soon you find yourself getting angry, because he keeps making fun of the things you believe, and he is not very receptive to contrary views.

But, every time I start to get angry at our differences in social and economic theory, I cannot help but remember a night a couple of years ago. My wife and I were upstate at a social function when a massive, unexpected ice and snow storm hit most of the state, trapping us far away from home while our two teenage children were alone up on the ridge. We were not worried, because they were 13 and 15 and very self-sufficient – but late that night, I got a phone call from my son. My daughter was in agony, experiencing severe abdominal pain, fever, and nausea. The pain had been increasing for most of the day, was centered in her lower right abdomen, and was sharpest when she pushed and then released at that spot. In short, it sounded like an appendix.

We called doctors, who spoke with my son and tried many things. They eventually concluded that my daughter needed to get to a hospital, but no ambulance was able to get up the mountain, which had become a mountain of ice, and helicopters were out of the question in the wind and storm. We were desperate – hours away, with roads closed and impassable, and with no solution in sight.

And then Homer called. My son had hiked up the ridge and pounded on his door until he woke up, and Homer was now in the process of loading my daughter into his truck to bring her down the mountain. Homer was very scared, as was I – coming down that mountain on icy roads was an insane idea – but there was no other choice. We arranged for an ambulance to meet Homer as high up the mountain as it could get; Homer and my son loaded the truck with all the weight they could find, took shovels, sand and salt, and then Homer drove down the mountain.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Homer has always shrugged off questions about the ride, but his truck is to this day a mass of dents and scrapes, more than you can count. He will never have them fixed; we don’t do that kind of cosmetic repair here on the high ridges of West Virginia, and they are, each of them, a separate badge of honor.

My son says they went off the side of the road several times; other times they skidded into drifts and ditches and had to dig out. He said Homer was squeezing the wheel so tightly that blood came out from behind his fingernails.

Somehow they made it. My daughter was rushed to a hospital where she received an emergency appendectomy (barely in time, according to the doctors), and everything turned out OK.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

So now, when Homer is saying some particularly offensive thing, and I start to get angry, I can’t help but remember that night, and all of the social and political theories seem far less important.

And when Homer storms away after a particularly strong political argument, and tempers are hot all around, I think about my daughter, and it occurs to me that maybe we should put less energy into our general theories about people, and more energy into thinking about specific people, people we know. We should think of how we treat our neighbors, and how they treat us, and then remember that all of the people about whom we form general, abstract opinions are just more examples of our neighbors, friends and family – people just like them, except for the accidental fact that we do not know them personally.

If we could remove the emotional force from statements that begin, “Liberals are . . .” or “All those Conservative people seem to . . . .”, then perhaps we could have a more rational dialogue with each other.

Obviously, we need general policies – abstract rules that form the background for our specific laws and regulations. But there is no need for these policies to take on vast moral overtones, or for our debate over them to polarize us to the point where we almost cease to see each other’s humanity. These policies are efforts to find workable rules of governance over a diverse populace – they should not be efforts to legislate moral absolutes upon people who do not believe in those absolutes.

We coexist by accepting that we have different beliefs, and treating the governing and legislating process as a way of reaching workable solutions to practical problems. When we start to think of the governing and legislative process as a means by which to impose our views on others, we form deep societal divisions. This is best avoided by remembering that the guy you are in the process of mentally characterizing as the “enemy” is probably like Homer – a good person and a good neighbor who just thinks differently about a few things.

Try to remember, as I do, the night Homer came down the mountain.


Now, A Drumlin Daisy

Then: TriangleAnomaly
Once, a long time ago, MazonCreekRich
And, even longer ago, BrokeInTheBurgh
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