Igor found us at our best

Lana
Lana Payne
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Igor (the terrible) came. He wreaked havoc and devastation. Washed an elderly man — doing a neighbourly deed — out to sea.  And damaged our beautiful province.

His anger lasted hours and left behind months and months of repairs and reconstruction. The injury to our province will surely be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Highways and roads were washed out; some split in half, cutting off thousands of residents. Bridges crumbled under the force of Igor’s wrath. Homes, community buildings and businesses were flooded, some destroyed. Roofs were blown off. Power and phone lines were downed and hundred-year-old trees were cracked in two as if they were little more than matchsticks.

But not even Igor could destroy the soul of the people of this place; the resiliency and the sense of community that has seen our province and its people through much adversity.

Dr. Seuss once wrote that “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

This past week, while Igor did his worse, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were at their best. They cared “a whole awful lot” about each other.

The workers who busted their guts out to clear water mains and broken-up roads and repair downed power lines and bridges.  The police and emergency personnel who did all they could to keep us safe from the most vicious storm our province has seen in generations.

The volunteers, including the fire brigades, who did so much for their towns and communities and the people who were humbled by Igor’s rage. They set up emergency shelters and organized food and water when hundreds of families were forced to leave their homes.

The neighbours who ventured out to check on those left vulnerable by the hurricane, the elderly and the isolated. The municipal politicians and leaders — who, with heart and pride — donned a brave face and soldiered on; worried about their towns and their citizens, many forced from their homes, while others were left without power, water and sewer.

And the journalists who did a first-class job of getting out the information as quickly as possible so the people of central, southern and eastern Newfoundland could remain calm in the face of Igor’s fury.

They all deserve our thanks and are to be commended for staring down Igor with kindness, resolve, and breathtaking humanity.

Igor came, but he did not get the best of us.

Abe Lincoln once said, when “the occasion is piled with difficulty, we must rise to the occasion.” Plenty of people did that this past week.

The mayor of St. Bernard’s- Jacques Fontaine, a beautiful fishing community in Fortune Bay, was perhaps representative of so many municipal leaders who, with no or little sleep in two days, spoke a little wearily to a reporter of the devastation to his town. But in the next breath, his voice no longer weary, he praised the local fire brigade and construction workers and business owners who surely rose to the occasion.

And now, in its aftermath, the reconstruction and the cleanup is already underway. Damages are being assessed. The provincial and federal governments have pledged their support. As I write this, the day after Igor, the skies are blue, after dumping more than 200 millimetres of rain on a large part of the province, and the wind which had gusted up to 140 kilometres an hour at the peak of the storm was little more than a breeze.

Poet William Wordsworth encouraged us to let nature be our teacher. What did nature teach us this past week? Perhaps it reminded us just our fragile life can be. Perhaps it taught us that in the midst of great difficulty humanity and compassion have a way of rising to the top.

It reminded me that in this global age where individualism is often touted over the benefits of the collective, just how wrong-headed that notion is. Because when times are tough, we need each other. We need strong leaders. We need kindness and generosity. We need to help each other and we need to rise to the occasion. That doesn’t happen if in good times we only think of ourselves.

Perhaps nature taught us this week not to take things for granted, not to take our humanity for granted, but to practice compassion each and every day so that it’s not so rusty when it’s really needed.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com.

Her column returns Oct. 9.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Eastern Newfoundland, Fortune Bay

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  • Shikibu
    September 26, 2010 - 10:53

    Thanks for this article. You are correct; individualism is not where it's at. Looking at nature, there is no creature or plant on earth that survives in isolation. I am reminded of the incident a few years ago when power was disrupted all over the north-eastern US; the most populated region of North America. How interesting it was so see on the news New Yorkers stopping and talking to each other, and they seemed happy doing it! Similarly after 9/11 in Montreal... drivers were for a couple of days strangely courteous. It was noticeable to me, anyway. But having visited NL after a lengthy absence just a few days before Igor, I was astounded by the sense of community in NL even when times are normal. It was so stunning we're looking to move back! I never knew how much I missed the land, sea, and people of Newfoundland.

    • Dannielle Traverse
      September 26, 2010 - 15:11

      Hello...from across the miles. i was born and raised in st.johns nfld. i am presently residing in alberta soon to be coming back home. My heart goes out to my people and to those who are helping in this terrible tragedity, may gods blessings be with you all...