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The awe and the thaw
The highs and lows of a freezing week in Austin.
The horrors of last week’s storm and infrastructure failure in Texas leave me almost speechless.
For the first part of the week, I was without power, shivering most of the time, eating dinner in the dark and then going to bed under a pile of blankets. Frank and I still had running water, though, but when that ran out on Wednesday morning, I decided to brave the roads to go to my house on the other side of town, which still had both power and water.
Two days without power doesn’t seem like much, but it was the crises happening all over the state that added such a perilous weight to this week. People dying in the cold. Families with young children or elderly relatives living without water or heat for 5 or 6 days. Hospitals relying on cat litter to remove human waste. Farmers losing an entire winter crop.
Single-digit nights followed by sunny freezing days exhausted my body, and worrying about what was going on around the state exhausted my mind.
So many people are still without basic necessities. We’re boiling water, if we have it, and trying to get a long waitlist for a plumber if we don’t. The city’s mutual aid organizations have gone into overdrive reallocating resources, including water, food and hot showers.
Since the snow started melting, I’ve been trying to assess and allocate what I have and need.
By Thursday, I had enough power, both literally and emotionally, to dive into work, rounding up where people could get free water and finding out what havoc awaited farmers when they got to their fields. On Friday, after realizing so many people still didn’t have power and water, I started baking bread for my Buy Nothing group.
In a normal week, I would have been sending out a 7 magical things list on Thursday, but the truth is, I wasn’t finding much magic.
But I did find awe.
Restaurants cooking free meals. Strangers taking each other in for days at a time. Free water pick-up sites popping up faster than the snow could melt. Neighbors fixing each other’s pipes. H-E-B letting customers walk out of the store without paying for groceries when the power suddenly went out.
My company even arranged a food pick-up site on Saturday so journalists who haven been working around the clock could get fresh produce, pantry staples and water.
These things left me feeling in awe. Like magic, awe leaves me feeling a sense of wonder, but unlike magic, awe, according to lexicographers, includes elements of fear and “reverential respect.”
After a year of the coronavirus, I am in awe of this time, this place and the people living through it.
Thank you to everyone who reached out over the past week. I know what it’s like to watch friends and family suffering from afar with so little you can do. So many people wanted to help, so I was sending them this list of Texas mutual aid organizations.
There was little anyone could do until the weather improved, but now that it has, how do we keep taking care of each other to get through the rest of this ongoing tragedy?
I know the sparkle and the magic will come back. They did 11 months ago after the shock of the quarantine wore off. That’s when we starting finding ways to make special moments even during a prolonged crisis. To have fun in new ways. To feel the tingle of excitement.
After this most recent walloping, I’m not there yet. Transforming awe into magic takes mental, emotional and spiritual energy. After the exhale comes the inhale. Batteries take time to recharge, and time takes time. We’ll get there.