Be Aware of Your Surroundings

This weekend, we traveled the rural two-lane highways of northern Minnesota in horribly frigid temperatures of minus 20 degrees below 0 (double that in wind chills) to take some teenagers to a youth group activity and dance in Duluth. On the return trip Saturday evening we approached the small community of Cromwell, MN, and spotted a chimney fire blazing atop a two-story house alongside Hwy 210. A few lights were on in the house, but no activity was evident outside. “They don’t know!” was our first response.

We all grabbed at cell phones, but we were close to the gas station at the center of town so we stopped there to report the fire. Ironically, we hadn’t noticed that the fire hall was right next to the gas station. The clerks called the fire department. One thought she knew the older single woman who lived in that house so we returned to the house to alert the occupants. “In this town, the firefighters will all be volunteers,” my husband said.

The intensity of the fire had escaped further down the chimney and we could just see the sparks spewing out the top. We followed the driveway to the back door where another driver in a truck had seen the fire and stopped to help. He had knocked to no avail. “Has someone reported it?” he asked.

We drove around the house, looking for another entrance and returned to the back. A passenger in our car rang the doorbell and tried the door, but it was locked and the fenced dogs barked at our intrusion. Knowing the fire truck would be here soon and not wanting to be in the way, we turned back to the highway.

Indeed, the fire truck was pulling out of the fire hall, but it stopped to wait for the volunteers. My husband pulled up to the truck, reported what we knew, and said, “Do you have it from here?”

Of course they did. Volunteers, like these, are indispensable in small communities. Those who offer to perform a service of his or her own free will, those who render aid or those who assume an obligation deserve not only appreciation but emulation.

This experience sparked me to re-engage in community service. I don’t mean I immediately signed up for an organized volunteer position (although that could be one way to help). Rather, it means I will be a more active and aware participant in any community to which I belong, taking a cue from my husband’s often-used phrase.

Here’s How to “Be Aware of Your Surroundings”:

  1. Be observant. See other people and situations outside of our own concerns. Look beyond our usual line of sight at the verbal and nonverbal clues that tell us something may not be normal.
  2. Be available. Don’t over schedule ourselves so we are too busy or distracted.
  3. Be willing to offer to help or accept responsibility until someone more qualified can take over.

Such service not only strengthens our communities it reconnects us to them, whether it is family, school, church, work, or municipal. When we are an active and aware participant we feel a greater sense of concern for the issues and individuals and become a real part of that group.

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