A Sense of Communion

I was in a graduate theology class a few years ago and a teacher asked me to define communion.

“Don’t think about it,” he said, “just tell me what it is.”

I paused for a split second. “Bob, Chris, Peter, Monica, John, Tom, Mary.”

“Who are they?”

“My siblings.”

“Are you close?”

“Not exactly. We just are. When something happens, we come together. Shared upbringing and experiences, shared understanding and identity. That’s communion.”

When you bump along next to each other for a certain length of time, say, during the fertile growing period, called childhood, or during a crisis, you form connections that remain, no matter how far you wander from your tribe.

I was thinking about that over the past eight days as our little community went through its own officially declared state of emergency.

A week ago, we had several days of rain and flooding, followed by a major storm that dumped two feet of heavy, wet snow north and west of New York City. High winds toppled hundreds of trees, knocking out power lines and blocking nearly every single road in and out of our community.

Home Alone And Very Cold

People were trapped in their homes, driveways buried under ice and snow. The power went out that Friday morning and it got very cold. A few people were well-prepared, with in-house generators hooked up and gas tanks at the ready. Most people had at least a fireplace or a wood stove, or even a kerosene heater and some candles. Some had nothing but a flashlight and some blankets. They ran out of food, because the local market closed up when the storm began. People began checking on elderly neighbors, dropping off food and blankets. It would be days before NYSEG was able to begin assessing the damage.

The local volunteer fire departments sprang into action as fire calls began popping up. Everyone heard about the man who accidentally cut off a finger, trying to start his snowblower. Less well known were the dozen or so elderly people who were injured or trapped in their homes, some with life-threatening conditions. The sheriff and constables began patrolling the roads, checking out houses, to see which ones were occupied. Later we told each other, “they should have been knocking on more doors,” as the stories emerged and we realized how many people were missed.

Down by the Delaware River, a small building by one of the canoe liveries was crushed by a huge 30 foot falling tree. A car was damaged by a much smaller tree that fell. Some houses were damaged. But there was no loss of life.

Both townships set up warming stations and the local emergency medical services were manned night and day with pots of soup and chili on the stove, and hot showers for those who could get out.

EMTs gathered up the people they knew who needed help, those in wheelchairs, those whose chronic conditions were well-known. But there are many independent, self-sufficient, elderly people in our community who wouldn’t think of calling 911. They are the ones we missed, the ones we could have looked harder to find.

A second snowstorm came by, dropping off another foot of snow.

In a day or two, some roads were cleared, but most people still had no power. Those handy home generators sucked up a lot of gas, so there was a continual search for more. Most homes didn’t have Internet, but people found they could go on our local Facebook page, Living In Barryville, NY, and post information about which station had just received another fuel shipment. Kerosene was harder to come by. Once a major road was cleared, you could drive twenty miles into Pennsylvania and buy kerosene.

Here in Sullivan County, we’re just 2 hours from New York City, so there are a lot of second homes here. People down in the city, snowbirds in North Carolina and Florida were checking in, asking about their roads. Were their houses safe?

It Takes A Village of Kindness

People showed up at the two local EMS stations and waited their turn for hot showers. They brought food and chatted with neighbors also waiting for showers. Some brought laundry or dirty dishes to wash. It was, I realized, our modern version of the village square, where people gathered to draw water from the well and exchange news about local happenings.

“Is your road cleared yet?”

“”When are the NYSEG crews coming?”

“The National Guard is here, they brought water. You can pick up some at the Town Hall.”

“Did you see that truck? That crew came all the way from Ottawa, Canada!”

“Harry’s ran out of gas, but D& R has some, on this side of the river.”

Those first few days were hard. The weather dipped into the twenties at night.

“Better this happened in March. Imagine what this would have been like, back in December,” people reminded each other.

Last December had been bitterly cold, with temps around zero. At least, in early March, the temps came up into the thirties during the day. It wasn’t pleasant, and some people were really, really cold. A couple of them had to be hospitalized, which tells me we all need to do a better job of checking up on each other. We were grateful to hear that nobody froze to death, but we can do more, next time.

Knock On Some Doors

The main thing we learned from this state of emergency, was to know our neighbors, our community a little better. Go next door, introduce yourself, get some basic information. At the very least, you’ll get a name, maybe a phone number. There will be a connection, however slight. Then, when something happens, you’ll be able to call and say “are you all right?” At the most, you might make a friend, maybe even a lifelong connection.

Nine days later, with crews from Canada and the Midwest pitching in, roads were cleared and nearly everyone had power restored. The governor squawked about revoking the licenses of Con Ed and NYSEG for their slow response, but we were just happy to be warm again.

I talked to friends and we agreed. It’s not enough to know our next door neighbors. We need to go further afield, and knock on more doors. We need connection and a sense of communion. People need to know they matter. No one should be cold and alone, thinking nobody cares about them.

You’re my neighbor. We’re here, on this same planet, sharing this experience called life. I care.

Route 97, Hawks Nest by the Delaware River, NY




Writer, editor, advocate, occasional organist/cantor. You can find me at or on

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Barbara Carson Todd

Barbara Carson Todd

Writer, editor, advocate, occasional organist/cantor. You can find me at or on

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