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Molnar: Touched By The Flood

10/03/11 7:55AM By Martha Molnar
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(HOST)   Commentator Martha Molnar is a public relations consultant, freelance writer, and former New York Times reporter who moved to Vermont in 2008. And she's been deeply moved by how Vermonters have pulled together in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.

(MOLNAR) Weather is always a popular topic in Vermont, but for weeks now it's been replaced by The Flood - an infinitely richer subject because it's broader - deeper, so to speak - and incorporates both tragedy and heroism.

With recovery, we hear more and more about how individuals and communities are responding. The roster of ordinary heroes keeps growing, and with it, our confidence that we are living up to Vermont's reputation for determination and hard work.

And as a newcomer to the state, I've noticed that the swift and caring response of the droves of volunteers is fed not just by ordinary compassion and public spirit; but also by the fact that Vermont is a community in the old-fashioned sense of the word... defined as a social or interest group, a citizenry, a neighborhood.

To me, Vermont seems almost like a mid-sized city with a sprawling population and four distinct neighborhoods: south Vermont, central Vermont, Greater Burlington and the Northeast Kingdom. Maybe that's why we often get the impression that everyone here knows everyone else; that here, the celebrated six degrees of separation are reduced to maybe two or less.

I didn't personally know the Rutland father and son who were swept away when they went to check on the city's waterworks; but almost everyone I know knew them, or knew a member of the family well, or had met them enough times to recognize them at the fair or the supermarket. With so many around me feeling the tragedy, I too experience the loss on a surprisingly intimate level.

I expect it will take years before I can boast that I know practically everyone in my town, as seems to be the case with many long-timers. But if I hear a name, I can often associate it with a street, and if I know someone on that street, I can visualize the location, the stream that flows to the west of the road, the houses on the street, and so the one that collapsed, leaving its family unimaginably bereft.

A young couple I met at the farmers market lost the farm they had only recently bought and turned into productive acres of vegetables. Theirs are not just faces in the newspaper. I know these people. I've bought their golden beets and chatted with them. Looking out at my sodden lawn, I catch myself standing with them, gazing at the river that now runs through their washed out rows.  It is this intimacy that makes so many of us experience the floods' devastation on such a personal scale.

When I lived near New York City, the tragedy of people in upstate New York seemed distant - the loss somehow easier to take. It would be easier to feel less connected now.

But then we would just be isolated residents without the compassion, the kindness, the caring of the true community we've all become a part of.
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