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Live Life Fully: Generosity of many not watered down

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

Charles Dickens' reference to life during the French Revolution could well apply to the experience of 300,000 of my fellow West Virginians dealing with the recent water contamination crisis.

It has brought out both the best and the worst in us.

And to think that two-thirds of the world lives without running water every day is pretty sobering!

Our up-close-and-personal glimpse of this reality came crashing down on an ordinary Thursday evening a couple of weeks ago. News of the chemical leak into our water supply spread like wildfire.

To say that panic set in might be an understatement. Grocery stores and convenience stores were stripped of bottled water within a couple of hours. Not a box of baby wipes was to be found. Nor an ounce of hand sanitizer.

I saw one news report of customers loading up their grocery carts with bottled water and dashing to the parking lot to load their cars -- without even stopping to pay cashiers!

You've heard plenty about the challenges and unanswered questions. So, to mitigate one of my often quoted statistics -- that 70 percent of the information we hear in our everyday lives is negative -- I'd like to focus on some of the positives that have come out of this situation.

Here's a silver-lining example. Michelle, our in-house accountant, was dealing with her mother's scheduled surgery on those fateful days of Jan. 9 and 10. Her mom was admitted to the hospital on the 9th, having undergone all the preoperative tests earlier in the day to be ready for surgery first thing on the morning of the 10th. Her pastor and his wife had made the two-hour journey from Bluefield to Charleston to support her.

Because of the water emergency, however, instead of having the surgery, Michelle's mother was discharged at the crack of dawn Jan. 10. And Michelle drove her mother back to Bluefield (while juggling the no school/no day care dilemma with her husband, Eric, and their three children). The silver lining: Unprompted, Michelle had loaded her car with bottled water and brought back enough supplies for our office and employees, as well as other friends in need.

Neighbors helped neighbors. Relatives and friends took one another in. I've never heard so many offers of showers and meals from those who had clean water in other areas. People got creative and resourceful -- even if they were a bit cranky.

The news media and social media did a great job of keeping everyone updated of the frequent government briefings and other information as it became available. And then, after several days, attention turned from individual situations to the community at large and the domino effect of mandated business closings. Here are a few examples:

  • Hotels went from being full to not having any rooms booked because of the cancellation of a statewide conference.
  • Restaurants lost out on thousands of dollars in revenue, and employees lost multiple days -- approaching a week in some cases -- of pay.
  • Many other businesses were shut down, incurring revenue losses for themselves and their employees, not to mention loss of services to the public.
  • A local sausage and salad manufacturer lost out on several days of production. When the "all clear" signal came to flush its pipes and resume business, the company produced 10,000 pounds of food, only to have to throw all of that out, due to the premature "safe" call and a subsequently revised do-not-use order for the water in their area.
  • And those poor parents! With children barely back in school for a few days following the holidays, parents faced the double challenge of the "polar vortex" during the week prior to the water crisis that canceled school for several days. And then school was canceled for a week on top of that because of the unsafe water. I heard one instance of a family having to pay an additional $300 a week just for day care -- and that's only when those facilities were able to reopen.
  • Now it's time for some cockle warmers -- stories that will warm the cockles of your soul. To help heal the collective soul of our communities, individuals and groups sprang into action:

  • Numerous volunteers braved the cold and manned water distribution sites. Some even made door-to-door deliveries.
  • "Mountain Stage" offered free admission to its live show at the Culture Center.
  • The Clay Center has offered a "pay what you wish" policy for the next several weeks.
  • Former West Virginians Randy Moss and Bishop T.D. Jakes sent in truckloads of bottled water to be distributed to those in need. Many other companies and organizations sponsored efforts as well.
  • The National Guard, FEMA, Salvation Army and other federal, state and local groups rose to the occasion. Folks were concerned about organizations such as Manna Meal being able to operate.
  • Grocery stores and convenience stores were quick to restock their shelves with bottled water after the initial run on their supplies.
  • "Turn Up the Tips," a grass-roots program to encourage restaurant patrons to be a little more generous to their servers dealing with lost wages, has gathered lots of steam. Hats off to high school student Austin Susman who wrote a song to call attention to this cause, and to his classmates, Caitlin Moore and Daniel Calwell, who helped produce a music video about it.
  • I'm sure I've only scratched the surface when it comes to describing the kindnesses that have come out of this situation, and space doesn't allow for more mentions right now. If you have a poignant example to share, feel free to send me an email for potential inclusion in a future column. We're all in this together, and we've got a lot of ground to make up for that 70 percent concentration of negative chatter.

    I'll close with one of my favorite stories to come out of this crisis. It involves a receipt from a restaurant in downtown Charleston. The bill came to $67.38, and the customer added an amount for the tip -- $87.70 -- that was even greater than the cost of the meals! A handwritten message on the receipt read, "Happy Water Week. It will get better. God bless U. Pay it forward."

    And pause to reflect that we live in the one-third of the world that does have running water!

    Linda Arnold, M.A., MBA, is a certified wellness instructor, counselor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm with offices in West Virginia, Montana and Washington, D.C. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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