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On Community

Like many who live in the Northeast, I lost power during Hurricane Sandy. For a week. I'm luckier than some, as I have a generator to at least keep my heat going. But on Tuesday, day two without electricity, my generator died at 6:30am. Within minutes I could feel the house temperature dropping. I don't panic, I thought, it just meant it needed to be fed oil, right? But OMG the oil was in the garage and with no power the door won't go up! Oops. Okay, so I got dressed and walked to the gas station half a mile from home to buy oil. No biggie, right? But the two gas stations in town had no power (YIKES!) so, no oil. Okay, there were two more big stations a mile or two mile further down on the road. I can do this, I think.

walking down street - ryanopaz - flickr
The walk is made easier with help from those around you.

So I trudged forward, a little weary and my enthusiasm waning. As I was walking along and feeling a bit sorry for myself, a woman in a car stopped and asked if I needed help. I told her I needed oil for my generator and she said, "Get in, I will drive you to the station." I hoped this would be a quick trip, so we drove to the station and it was closed as well. Sense a pattern here? But my new friend and partner was committed to the mission! We continued on to another gas station and saw a door open (hope?), but no lights. I leapt out and told the manager that please dear God I need oil for my generator. My Good Samaritan even offered to pay for the oil if I didn't have the cash since the credit card machine was not working. There was oil! Success! I will live another day! Then, this wonderful woman, a nurse who works in the Bronx, proceeded to drive me home. Her help saved me hours of walking and a great deal of frustration, and reminded me how much community means to all of us.

Community can be a lifesaver. In some instances, as I experienced during the storm, it help us in dire situations. Or perhaps it's a way to stay in contact face to face in an increasingly virtual world, as I experienced walking through my neighborhood during those powerless days and greeting neighbors on the street. As we grow older, many of us cite our community as one of the main reasons for wanting to stay in our homes. In fact, as recent AARP research shows, staying in the community is one of the primary reasons people say they want to stay in their residence for as long as possible.

I'm sure many of us in need experienced similar stories during this horrible storm and its aftermath, and it truly does lighten your spirit. In our recent Happiness study, we found that the majority of people 50 and older felt 'having someone do something kind for you unexpectedly' was a key contributor to Happiness.

I am proud to know I have neighbors like Beth K. and am eternally grateful for her act of kindness on that cold morning, the day after that devastating storm.  Thanks, Beth, for reminding me that I am part of a community, a community that cares and believe in acts of kindness - random or not.


Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Opaz @ Flickr

More on Becky: Becky is AARP's Senior Vice President of Research & Strategic Analysis, and is focused on fostering understanding of the interests and concerns of people age 50+ and their families. Before coming to AARP, Becky served as the Vice President of Global Market Research & Guest Satisfaction for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. In her spare time, she likes visiting her niece in Ohio, gardening, and collecting America Art and antiques.

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