It happened about three weeks ago: I had gotten up around 2 a.m. to get a glass of water, intent on heading right back to sleep, when I heard a sound that I recognized almost instantly.

It was actually more felt than heard, a force that struck the house and shook the windows, coming and going so fast that for a second I wondered if maybe in my bumbling, half-awake state I’d simply imagined it.

Decades before, there had been an explosion in the neighborhood I grew up in, something to do with a gas leak in a not-yet-unoccupied home a few streets away from ours. No one was injured, thankfully, but I will never forget the sound it made as the blast wave hit our house, a sound that was terribly similar to the one I was now hearing again.

Tragically, I hadn’t imagined it: less than a mile up the road, a family’s house had been decimated by the ferocity of an early morning fire and several ensuing explosions that rocked the neighborhood. It was just after Christmas, and the devastation was immeasurable.

While several pets were tragically lost, the people in the home survived. And while there is absolutely no making sense of why some people are dealt the heartbreak of this kind of loss, it was in the hours, days and weeks that followed that those living in our neighborhood were able to glimpse the humanity that such an event brings out in others.

From the first responders who rushed to the scene, to the Red Cross volunteers who assisted the family, to the many people in and around the neighborhood who stepped in to try and help, it was heartening to be reminded of the strength and compassion that is so interwoven into the fabric of our communities.

I am often reminded, especially during times of great turmoil, of something the great Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame) once reportedly said about seeing things that troubled him as a child.

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers,’” Rogers once said. “You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

As someone who lives a small town, I rarely have to look very far to find the helpers.

Even in the most difficult times, they are the ones who we can always count on to remind us just what “community” truly means.

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