John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 7, 2010

John Howell Sr.

Minding own business aside; become brothers’ keepers in dire cold

We’ve rushed to get this Friday edition printed Wednesday night for distribution Thursday, all because of the weatherman’s dire predictions.

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Our plan is for all of the employees we rely on to insert, mail and deliver this newspaper to get through and get home safely before driving becomes hazardous.

We normally don’t let weather people and their forecasts cause us to drastically rearrange schedules, but we’ve seen serious cold unlike any we’ve had in years. As my brother said, even if there is no snow, ice or freezing rain, it’s cold enough that people need to be at home just to keep their pipes from freezing.

 There’s a side to this that is even more serious: Now is not the time to start minding your own business. Now is the time to become the keeper of your brother and sister — as in keeping tabs on people who are vulnerable to the cold. Pay attention to those who live alone. They are often the people least visual on the usual radar of our daily routines. They become most vulnerable during times of extreme cold. These are the people for whom a power outage could have a fatal outcome. Be aware.

There’s often another deadly consequence of extremely cold weather. People burn up in their homes trying to stay warm.

Again, it’s the most vulnerable among us. People who can’t afford to have their propane tanks filled resort to small electric heaters plugged into outlets inadequate for the load. People who have had their natural gas or electricity cut off because they can’t pay their bill buy charcoal, build a fire and try to stay warm and die from the carbon monoxide fumes. People do stupid, desperate things when they are cold or more especially when their children are cold.

Again, be aware. Those same people made desperate by the cold are often also the least visible among us, hiding their plight because of pride or shame or embarrassment.

And if you are aware — aware that someone has resorted to some desperate, foolish measure to stay warm — make a noise. Call the sheriff, call a fire department, call the police, call the mayor, call somebody and make a noise. If the rest of us won’t help you out of charity, at least we might help you out of guilt the guilt of knowing that we might have done something to prevent a tragedy or to keep a tragedy from compounding.

For the duration of the cold emergency, let the concept of “brother’s keeper” not be confused with our usual predisposition to being nosy.