Today’s Word from Kelsi Lindus…
The power was out on Whidbey and, on the west side of the island, it was difficult to say why. Where I sat, the trees were unmoving beyond the window. Unable to finish our work, my mom and I decided instead to run an errand, and drove down to an empty cabin on a remote stretch of beach to drop some things off. There, on the east side, a north wind was whipping up the water and a few waves had swelled through the waterfront yards to the street. We slowed down through the puddles and thought little of it as we parked down the dead end and passed the next hour watching the high tide splash against decks beneath a blue sky. But when we tried to return home, the road was entirely flooded, impassable.
We drove back to the vacant cabin—where the lights and heat were off with the outage, the kitchen was empty, and the water was not turned on—and waited for the flooding to recede with the tide. On our second attempt to leave, a neighbor stopped us— “it’s still too deep,” he warned, so we ate a few of my nephew’s dinosaur gummy snacks, the only sustenance we could find, and waited. By our third attempt, we were losing sunlight. The neighbor waded through thigh-high water to reach his wife and child on the other side, but he motioned back to us: don’t try to cross—too deep; too many logs. A man with a hat was monitoring the water level. “Do you have a bed?” he asked when I explained our circumstances, and I shook my head—nothing. A family pulled up next to us, hoping too to get through. They were staying at a friend’s house for the weekend. We’d been visiting, we told them, but hadn’t intended to stay. “Do you have anything to eat?” they asked, and I laughed. “Half a pack of gummy snacks and a mint,” I said. “Then why don’t you come over for some wine?”
I’m an introvert, and independent, loath to ask for help. This year has heightened my reclusion and reluctance. I quickly tire of the exaggerated effort it takes to emote behind a mask. I swerve six feet around people when I walk. In the grocery store aisle, I avoid eye contact as some misguided gesture of respect. Any small-talk skills have slunk away as I’ve passed seasons in the same few rooms, conversing with the same few family members. More than ever, I try not to inconvenience anyone by asking for anything. Now, we were trapped in the impending darkness on an isolated beach with no one to rely on but strangers.
We found the house belonging to the family and, nervously readjusting my mask, I knocked. They’d already thrown together a bag full of cheese and crackers and apples and wine. I noticed their daughter fumbling to light a few tiny candles and remembered the pack of flashlights we had in the car. “Do you want a few?” I asked. “That’d be great,” they said, so we ran down the street to fetch them. Back at the cabin with our sacred snacks, we sat down on the carpet and opened a bottle of wine just as the man with the hat knocked on the door. In his arms were sleeping bags, a propane lantern, and a box of matches. By the time the heat whirred on in the middle of the night, we were happily asleep on the floor.
When the sky began to lighten again, the Puget Sound was smooth outside the window. We walked to the end of the street. The water was still there, but lower, a curved line of logs marking where it’d been the day before. A woman collected surfaced worms from the water for her compost, and I waved. The man with the hat assured us we could get out, but we’d better hurry—they were putting piping in across the road to drain the water and it would soon block cars from passing. I knocked on the door of the family to let them know. Soon enough we were home again, sitting at our too-familiar table relishing hot coffee from too-familiar mugs.
I’ll leave the philosophizing to the experts, but no doubt it would have been a very cold, hungry night had we not struck up conversation and accepted assistance. I was reminded that sometimes it is a gift, not a burden, to let someone help. In the coming weeks, as restrictions continue to tighten and the weather continues to worsen, in a year when it’s so easy to forget, may we remember that we have neighbors, and that we are neighbors—that, even in this state of quarantine, every street is lined with houses full of people like us, isolated and anxious and impatient and simply seeking what we all need to survive: bread, wine, warmth, rest, fleeting moments of shared humanity. So ask for help if you need it, and offer help if you can, and as my dad says: one day closer.