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A swift learning curve

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I have to admit that before Wednesday morning, I did not know what a heat index was.

“It’s like the wind chill factor,” husband Stephen explained. “Only for heat.” It is the combination of the temperature and the humidity, and its effect on the human body.

Excessive heat, like excessive cold, is dangerous to the vulnerable among us.

For many of us with air conditioned cars and offices and/or homes, getting out of the heat is a relatively easy thing to do. And for others, oppressive heat cannot be escaped in the workplace, in our vehicle or our home.

Of course, there are precautions that we can individually take: drink lots of water, stay out of the sun, cool yourself off if you’re having trouble breathing or are feeling shaky.

This morning I am thinking about the precautions that those responsible for the public health and safety are taking in what could be a health crisis for some. There seems to be little preparation. Perhaps it is because we are not used to these sort of hot-weather-related incidents. It’s not like a power outage in the middle of winter, although there will be increased demand on our electrical grid.

Anecdotally, I hear that one county official recommended that people go to the beach to cool down. Even if that was possible for the elderly in poor health or families with young babies, what is being taken for granted in that cavalier attitude is that everyone has the money to purchase a day pass to the county’s parks and lakes. If the county is actually suggesting that public safety is ensured by going to the parks, then the county needs to follow through with granting county residents day passes at no charge.

Sometimes it's tough to actually put ourselves in someone else's shoes. It’s hard to not assume that everyone has the same experience and resources that we do. And it is to this very human trait that we must all apply ourselves.

Sometimes, however, it’s easy to put ourselves in each other’s shoes, as Tanya and Andy Hahn, of Hilly Acres Farm, told the large crowd that had gathered this past Tuesday evening at the Roscoe Beer Company. They spoke of the tremendous outpouring of support from the community around a devastating fire that burned their historic multi-generational barn and killed 400 chickens. Without community, they said that they did not know how they would have gotten through.

Perhaps we can all relate to the trauma of losing our possessions in a fire. Perhaps it’s easier to be compassionate when you know the people involved. Perhaps it’s easier to rally around one family during a particular crisis.

But somehow we need to learn how to rally around the cohesive whole that we all share. Our public servants need to achieve a nuanced perspective of the residents they serve.

Our climate, which used to be so amazingly and consistently temperate, is becoming more turbulent. It’s not just that we are challenged by weather in the winter. Welcome to the new normal where rapid fluctuations will occur in any season, any month, week, or even from one minute to the next.

I didn’t know what a heat index was until Wednesday morning. We are on a swift learning curve.

Key to our learning is the need to understand that within a community we deal with an individualized collective. We need to take care of the whole, and developing an awareness of the effects on the most vulnerable among us, is top on the list.

That’s community. That’s a community consciousness that builds resilience and sustainability.

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