I picture twentieth century French philosopher Albert Camus at his desk during the Nazi occupation, passionately writing an essay for his underground newspaper Combat. Camus frequently observed that in times of crisis and fear we become “better than we are” (Notebooks, 1942-1951). It is a remark made by the narrator of his novel The Plague that stays with me now, never far from conscious thought: “What we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.” We are better than we know. And, quite simply, we cannot get by without each other.
What happened as the hurricane approached and struck? People looked out for each other – shopping, transporting, lodging, consoling. Family members and friends kept in touch, assuring and reminding that assistance was there if needed. Sacrifices were made unsought: your children can stay with me; drop your dogs at my house; use my vehicle; everyone can cook on our grill. Imaginative solutions arose from mind-numbing chaos: open the shelter right here, now, for this locality; use school buses for the evacuation; my restaurant staff will cook food for the neighborhood until we run out.
Once more we are keenly aware of what has been true all along: we care for each other. There were no strangers when the wind and water arrived and people were stranded, power went out, and many were at the mercy of the wet and the cold. It was impossible to worry only about oneself. It should remain that way.
Hopefully, amidst tragedy and loss and as lives are stitched together again, we can remember what Camus insisted: “One must not cut oneself off from the world” (Notebooks, 1935-1951). We can rise higher.