PUBLISHED: 3:24 PM on Wednesday, January 3, 2007
Connecting with others offers warmth in storms of life

A few weeks ago weather experts in my corner of the country forecasted the storm of the decade. And boy, were they right; the strong winds and rain not only delivered inconvenience, but brought destruction, loss, injuries and, unfortunately, fatalities.

I can see its aftermath by simply looking out my backyard, where a tree destroyed our fence and a beautiful grape arbor.

But there's another outcome from the storm no expert could have ever possibly forecast - the warmth that comes from connecting with others.

For my family, it meant getting to know neighbors again while we lived without power for more than three days. A couple of them slept in the comfort provided by our woodstove, which we also used to prepare meals.

Two friends made fresh coffee for us, courtesy of their generators. Together with our family and neighbors in need, we dined in candlelight and enjoyed each other's presence. At a time of year where our lists of pre-holiday must-do's came to a halt, we laughed, listened and learned more about each other without the interruptions of phone calls and instant messaging.

And if there's such a thing as listening to the quiet, that's what we did while we enjoyed the warmth that comes from connecting with others.

In the pitch dark of night, we all took a walk around the block, oohing and ahhing at the canopy of December stars above - as if seeing them for the first time.

At bedtime, I listened while a grandmother connected with her little grandson while she peacefully read him a bedtime story. Her quiet voice and his apt attention made me realize no forecast of a storm could have ever included such warmth.

Pam Johnson reconnected with others, too.

"We decorated our Christmas tree while we held up flashlights. And we just talked with each other - it was so nice," Johnson said.

Another friend, Tana, didn't let the fact she and her husband are new to the area deter her from reaching out. By using their propane stove, heater and lantern, they too enjoyed the warmth of connecting with others.

"I managed to feed 12 people," she said.

So whether it's feeding a group of hungry neighbors or reading with a child, I realized something a few weeks ago: That by taking time out for others, we can create a warmth to help us weather any storm of life.

And that's a forecast for the New Year that I'll welcome any time.

Judy Halone is a member of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.