A number of years ago, I was leaving a lake after a day of swimming with my daughters, and the gas tank fell out of my ancient Saab. A friend, also leaving the lake with his two young children, stopped to help. We put all the children in his Subaru, including my baby in her carseat, and he drove to a hardware store where we purchased straps, returned to my car, and then he tied up the tank. The gas tank was still secured in that way, when I gave the car to someone else.
The following summer, my baby had an allergic reaction at their pond, necessitating a terrifying ride to the ER. While it seemed my life was always in crisis around these folks, their barn, greenhouses, and farmhouse a few years later were incinerated by a gas explosion. That was in sugaring season, and one of the last things Kate had done in her kitchen was prepare a meal for my family, a gift during our arduous work season. She didn’t keep that meal for themselves; rather, she retained the presence of mind to have a mutual friend drive up the muddy road to our house the next day and deliver that homemade meal.
When I returned her dishes, with a meal I had made for her family, she exclaimed, “These are my things!” In that fire, she had lost nearly everything they owned.
The truth is, I think, that neither my life nor her life was so very far out of the ordinary; there’s undoubtedly differences in degrees and certainly in details, but all our lives are filled with some kind of traumas and miseries we would never willingly accept.
And yet we do.
Today, buying pepper plants at High Ledge Farm, their greenhouses filled with flourishing seedlings, their house beautifully rebuilt, I thought again of the time these folks took to be generous. May their gardens grow well this year.
There… was my answer for why the homeless guy outside Gillette gave me his lunch thirty years ago: just dead inside. It was the one thing that, poor as he was, he absolutely refused to be.
– Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging