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Averyt: Year of Irene

01/10/12 5:55PM By Anne Averyt
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(Host) January is about beginnings and endings. In order to look forward, commentator Anne Averyt is looking back on 2011 and considering what we Vermonters learned about ourselves in the wake of a raging storm.

(Averyt) January appropriately takes it name from Janus, the two-faced Roman god who looks with one face to the future and with his other face back to the past. From our vantage point on the cusp of 2012, the new year is a mystery; but 2011 remains vivid in memory as the year of Irene – the year that tested our resiliency and resolve, as individuals and as a state.

By the numbers Vermont is a small state. In total area we rank 45th among the fifty, and by population only Wyoming is smaller. But Vermont has a big state heart. Heaven opened up and poured buckets on our state last fall. Rivers raged, swallowed roads and rearranged town borders. Bridges that had proudly spanned waters for more than a century splintered and floated downstream.

The high pressure of nature’s fury tested the strength of Vermont’s heart. There were palpitations, there were missed beats, but our pulse remained strong. As a state and as neighbors, we opened our hearts and reached wide our arms to embrace one another.

What is it about human resiliency, about triumph in the face of tragedy? A generation ago, William Faulkner wrote in his novels a testament to the power of the spirit to do more than survive.

We are immortal, Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, because we have “...a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” And because of that strength of spirit, Faulkner went on to say, we will not only endure, we will prevail.

Maya Angelou put it another way; she said, “Every one of us has gone to bed one night with fear or pain or loss. And yet each of us has awakened, arisen... seen other human beings and said ‘Morning, how are you?’ ‘Fine thanks and you?’ Wherever this abides in the human being,” Angelou says, “there is the nobleness of the human spirit.”

While the pictures and memories of the devastation that was Irene are seared into our collective memory, the Vermont response has not been defeat but a resiliency nurtured by compassion. On the map our state may be small, but Vermonters are a big-hearted people; and that, not numbers or square miles, is what makes Vermont swell beyond its borders. Vermonters have heart, soul and spirit in abundance. We know about sacrifice, we reach out with compassion, we nurture hope. And these values, that confidence, tested by the full measure of Irene’s wrath, propels us into the future not just to endure but to prevail.
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