Some days come with more surprises than others, and sometimes – when we’re lucky – the experience of those surprises brings some glimmer of inner wisdom. Today – August 10th – was one of those surprise days for me. The day began when the phone beside the bed rang a little before 4 a.m. It was my son calling, asking if we knew what all of the explosions and sirens were about. He described hearing and feeling the first big explosion; he thought the windows in his apartment might blow out. Although the noise hadn’t woken me up as soon as I was awake I could also hear an ongoing barrage of explosions. Loud ones. In true 21st century style I went first to the computer to see if there was any explanation for what was going on on-line. Nada! David went out to the car to tune a particular 24-hour local news station that comes in better in the car than it does in the house. No information there either. Same results with 24-hour local news on TV. By about 4:20 we were getting glimmers of reports; there had been an explosion of some sort in a neighbourhood about 8 miles away. A few minutes later we had a little more information; there’s been an explosion at a propane facilty and emergency crews were on site. Not much to go by, but enough to let us say goodbye on the phone and go back to finish getting a reasonable night’s sleep.
When I woke up a few hours later the whole story was everywhere and as I sat watching the news and drinking my first latte of the day I started thinking about all of the people (some 5,000 plus) who were being evacuated from homes in the neighbourhood of the explosions. Seems there was still concern that there were more underground tanks that could explode; it took much of the day to put out all of the flames. Images on TV showed elderly people being led out of their houses – that just happens to be a neighbourhood with more than the usual number of folks who know geriatricians and buy Geritol in cases. I started to think that perhaps there was a way in which I could help out, something I could volunteer to do that would make this day a little easier for someone else.
For a full hour and a half I tried to find out where to go to volunteer. I called the radio stations, police, TV precincts- but of course the phone lines were all tied up and I could get no farther than somebody’s voice mail no matter where I called. In 1999, when Canada evacuated refugees in Kosovo and brought some of them to Ontario for safety, I’d volunteered through the Red Cross so I tried calling them. Voice mail again. “Okay”, I said to myself, “then I’ll just get in the car and drive to the area people being evacuated are told they should go, and just see what I can do.” By the time I was ready to head out, I was starting to think through this plan with a little more detail and realized that truth was I’d likely end up spending most of the afternoon in a traffic jam and that wasn’t much use to anyone.
I went back to “plan A” for the day, which was to read the Sunday papers, do a little work around the house, buy some fresh fruits and vegetables, prepare a gourmet salad to take over to my cousins for dinner, and somewhere in the day find time to sit in a cafe and read a novel for an hour. I felt frustrated that I didn’t know what to do or where to go to help, but, although I’d abandoned the plan to volunteer in today’s disaster, but along with that decision came another one. When I was working with the Red Cross at Base Borden I had lots of time to talk to other Red Cross volunteers and that’s when I first heard about the Disaster Response Training that Red Cross offers so that there’s a well-trained cadre of volunteers available when disaster strikes. Indeed, just as I was thinking about this, the image of somebody wearing a Red Cross vest was flashed onto the TV screen. This is something that can be done at the local or at the international level. I’d thought about it in 1999. Now, as I’m about to have – for the first time – the ability to devote my “working hours” time and energy as I choose it’s something I can change from a thought to a reality.
Now there’s one more bonus to this whole retirement idea.
I’m going to need to spend some meditative time recalling the other things that have crossed my mind in the past 59 years that might also direct me in my choices of what to do next. I have thought about international election scrutineers. I’ve thought about the Refugee Board. I guess it’s time to start a list and do some research. Ah, that research part. You could help!
If you’re reading this and you have been able to find interesting, maybe not immediately thought-of, ways to volunteer, or know somehow who has, I’m sure we’d all really like to hear about it.
- Share your volunteering stories
- Share your volunteering ideas
All’s quiet now. They just announced that some people are being allowed back into their homes tonight and the rest should be able to go back tomorrow. One fire-fighter, Chief Bob Leek, died. One person is still missing. Toronto’s a little sadder this evening. The radio just announced that city hall will be discussing whether having a propane facility in a residential neighbourhood is a good idea. Evidently, wisdom is still at a level of critical shortage. It’s been a long day.