by Michele Murphy, Press Columnist

Wasn’t it nice to be able to pull that lightweight blanket up over you and snuggle into the covers as temperatures continued to cool through the night this past week? My neighbor Matt calls this “good sleepin’ weather.”

I bet for some that first cup of hot coffee or tea tasted just a little bit better because you slept so well. Life is pretty good in Greater Cleveland.

As hurricanes, floods, and wildfires literally consume significant portions of the country, life for other Americans is not as good.

While it was nice to see that a CBS news report said Cleveland was the second safest place to be in the U.S. when it comes to volatile weather, many of us are worried about friends and family who are in harm’s way.

Imagine how they are feeling waking up in shelters where they spent an uncomfortable night on a cot, which I suppose is better than a concrete floor, but not much. The lights are never turned off – they can’t be for safety reasons. Sandwiched in among strangers, anyone can hear what you attempt to whisper to your upended family. What about a shower? How long does it for a cup of coffee to arrive, or a meal?

Still others are packing their cars with important papers, a few mementos and their pets to flee roaring flames or Category 4 hurricanes. In Florida, people are slapping plywood over windows and sandbagging their front doors. Some have sent their families to safer places, while they hunker down in their homes preparing to face looters that may add to their misery. Imagine having to face that fear, that threat. It’s beyond awful, I think.

Perhaps the worst thing of all is not knowing. Is your home still standing? If so, how bad will the damage be? What can be salvaged? Will insurance cover any of it? When will power be restored? How long will it take to get my life back? What do I tell the kids? Where is the rest of my extended family? Will it ever be back to what we thought was boring and normal? Who would have thought that we’d be pining for that boring, normal life?

I suspect it is not lost on many that this is playing out the same week we remember the horror of Sept. 11.

Now, as then, I believe it is up to each of us to reach out to those who are hurting to console and to help. Government, for all it did then and is doing now, can only do so much. First responders, National Guardsmen and women, Hot Shot firefighters will be pushed to their limits.

In Texas, hundreds of civilians with a pick-up truck and a boat lined the few highways that remained open trying to get to those who needed to be rescued from drowning. Who will ever forget the heroism and compassion of that Cajun Navy?

As this week progresses, we’ll no doubt hear and see more about what Floridians need, and let’s not forget our neighbors out west whose homes are being consumed by out-of-control fires made worse by drought.

I look at my little APL-adopted dog, sleeping so peacefully on the couch and can’t help but think of all the displaced pets across the country. My friend, Sharon Harvey, is Director of Cleveland APL. Saturday morning I watched videos she posted on Facebook through the middle of the night as they waited in Columbus for plane loads of pets being flown from animal shelters in south Florida so APL and other Ohio shelters could house and then place these little survivors up for adoption.

A few years back, Superstorm Sandy “visited” our area. Basements and streets flooded, trees came down and electricity was knocked out for days. I remember neighbors cooking out on their grills trying to eat what was in the fridge and freezer before it went bad. At least we had use of our grills and coolers. Losing electricity was bad, but we slept in our own homes, in our own beds, surrounded by our stuff.

These are times when we see the very best of America. People will write checks and donate clothing, furniture and household items that might help restore some sense of normal to the lives of those impacted by recent hellish storms and fires.

Some may be wondering – even worrying a bit – about where to make a donation that will have the biggest impact.

Truth is something that seems quite ordinary might have great meaning to storm and fire victims.

A woman in Houston put out a call asking for packages of new underwear. In a heartfelt piece that made the rounds of social media, she begged people to stop sending winter coats – it is still 90 degrees in Houston – and other clothing items because many folks have no closets or dressers in which to store them. Remember the Christmases you got a package of underwear from Granny or Santa and your disappointment? Many folks in Texas would be overjoyed with that gift right now.

Whether it is $10 or $100 or $1,000, or some new underwear, please help. People who have suffered through disaster have their hands full just trying to cope. Think of how vulnerable you would feel if you lost everything. A bar of soap and wash cloth may just help someone face the day ahead – a day they will search for just one little thing they can salvage from their life before disaster struck.

These are times when it doesn’t matter whether the state is red, blue or purple, or whether someone voted or not. As a matter of fact, I think this is an opportunity for Americans – you and me – to show Washington that “We the People” can put aside differences when the chips are down, work together and help one another.

Like the weeks and months following Sept. 11th, this is a time to embrace every neighborhood as our own neighborhood. Most Americans don’t think twice about helping a neighbor in need because we know from experience that, when the shoe is on the other foot, the helpers will be there. In times like these I’m reminded of a quote by Fred Rogers, who made “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” famous and beloved: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” “

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