It took a hurricane to really test what I had learned as a youth ---- love your neighbors, look out for them, give them as much of your heart as you give to your own well-being.
We had been warned for several days in advance that the hurricane was coming. Radio and TV news advised listeners to get a supply of things like flashlight batteries, and some listeners took it one step further and purchased generators, fully expecting the electric power to be down for days. Others made plans to leave town and stay with friends or relatives farther inland who could be expected to have heat and light. Some people never got around to doing any of these things before the storm hit.
Here is my question: What is my obligation to those who did not plan ahead so as to take care of themselves during and after the storm? We had expected the high-speed, gusty winds, which uprooted big trees and broke tree limbs, which in turn came crashing down on power lines. The next day there many roads blocked by fallen debris and live wires. First Responders were called to pump out flooded basements and to take some neighbors with strokes and heart attacks to the local hospital, many of which were operating on back-up electricity generators.
Meanwhile, some Jersey Shore residents refused to evacuate. They said their house had been in the family for 30 or 40 years, and had survived many past storms, so they would stay there to contain the storm damage as it occurred. Later, some would regret that decision ---- should the First Responders save them regardless of the danger they had created for these First Responders?
Up in Morris County, away from the Shore, some people planned for the safety of themselves and their families ---- only to have a large tree come crashing unexpectedly through the roof of their house.
And then there were senior citizens living alone in retirement, apart from the rest of their family. The plan of some seniors was simply to call on their adult children if anything came along beyond their control. However, the problem was that some of their adult children had forgotten to tank-up their cars, and some of their cars had been damaged by fallen trees. So, some seniors then had to depend on neighbors or just hope for the best!
While some people had never made plans for their own protection, others had pretty good plans which were defeated by the forces of nature. But, when peoples' lives are at stake, where do we draw the line between deserved assistance and undeserved assistance?
Is this situation a time for some kind of forgiveness? After all, it might save a human life ---- it might not be merely a matter of providing extra blankets because the furnace is no longer working.
One of the problems with forgiving someone for their planning failures is the double standard: We saw the dangers coming and avoided them. Shouldn't others pay the consequences if they were less vigilant, less organized, less focused to out-fox the hurricane?
Many times it is not that simple. Perhaps the negligence of some person also sealed the fate of his wife and children. Should all of them pay the consequences? We all make mistakes ---- if I am in the position to help or save someone, perhaps I should ask no questions, and just do the necessary to the fullest extent I am able.
My mother used to tell her young son, "God helps those who help themselves." Now, I think there is also a second sentence: "God also helps those responding to folks who have failed to help themselves."
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage you to pursue some personal spiritual growth this Spring at CPC.