We Shall Overcome

On Sunday, I bounced out of my apartment towards my car only to discover that my someone had hit it. Hard. There was no note to be found . . . only a busted-in bumper and the car itself, which had been moved several feet. 

On Monday, folk-singer legend and community activist Pete Seeger passed away at age 94.

On Tuesday, snow poured out of the Southern sky, stranding thousands of people in cars, schools, grocery store aisles, and, in many cases, the homes of strangers. 

Unconnected stories, maybe. But not for me. 

On Sunday, disgusted that one of my own neighbors had done such a thing to me, I chose to remain in a fog of anger and distrust. How could someone hit my car and not even leave a note? I kept bemoaning, blinded by my minor misfortune. What is wrong with people these days?

By Tuesday morning, I was still simmering. As I drove to work, though, in my actually-very-drivable, really-not-that-badly-damaged car, NPR ran a story about the life of Pete Seeger. I found myself singing along with the snippets of songs they played and thinking that perhaps people weren't so bad after all. Pete Seeger was succeeding: my hate had been surrounded and was considering surrender

"What an amazing person," I proclaimed to colleague later than morning. "Community. Community is the answer." She nodded, and I daydreamed, envisioning a Seeger-esque utopia full of people in harmony. Near surrender. 

"If only that jerk in my apartment complex had thought that way too!" I groaned, stomping obliviously on Seeger's goal. "I still just can't believe it. In my own apartment complex! People are so screwed up these days. What is wrong with the world?"

Myopia has always been a condition with which I've struggled. A few hours later, though, something actually worth being labeled a disaster hit.

That morning, Atlanta schools and businesses had largely dismissed the winter storm warnings, sure that they would amount to what they normally do here in the Deep South: exaggerated hype. Around noon, however, snow had begun to fall and accumulate, and commute times across the Metro area were quickly doubling, tripling, quadrupling. 

I was lucky. Thanks to an early dismissal and a short drive home, I was snuggled up with my puppy before the true nightmare began. As I sit here today, Wednesday, nearly 27 hours after the first flakes fell, many are still stranded. The roads remain treacherous, and there is little chance of improvement for at least another 24 hours. 

Amidst these nightmarish conditions, though, signs that Pete Seeger's dreams are more reality than I realized are all around. Local heroes have hiked miles in order to hand out food and water to strangers. Hundreds of people have thrown open the doors of their homes, welcoming in unfamiliar faces and offering warm food, hot showers, and a sense of community. The Facebook Group SnowedOutAtlanta has soared to over 46,000 members, more than half of whom are there simply to offer help however they can. And, well, I've finally realized that my slightly damaged car is not worth one ounce of anger or fretting. 

  One of many similar posts on the SnowedOutAtlanta Facebook group

One of many similar posts on the SnowedOutAtlanta Facebook group

I am always amazed when disasters like these strike. Without fail, we humans come through for one another. Sure, we can be selfish and power-hungry, and we often fail to see beyond ourselves, but we also have immense power to soothe, to save, and to serve. All one has to do is take a peek at the outpouring of kindness on SnowedOutAtlanta; five minutes of scrolling through the posts will confirm that, when it comes down to it, we are all there for one another. At least here, at least today, it seems that we are walking hand-in-hand, that we shall indeed overcome

As the snow and ice melt in the coming days, revealing the old roads we know, I hope we resist the temptation to return to old hardened pathways in our hearts. We've proven that here in Atlanta there is true community. May we keep our doors and hearts open. May we continue to prove that humanity is, after all, overflowing with generosity, kindness, and love. May we make this the "some day" that Seeger, and many others with him, dreamed would come.