Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Keith Burris


Nature, crisis humble us while testing our resolve



Had enough snow and cold so far this winter?

A few years ago, I was in a small group discussion at a church. Someone deploring man’s inhumanity to man opined that it was a shame human beings could not be more like the animal kingdom and that the working world could not know the true peace of nature.

Come again?

I’ve got a cat who is a killing machine. And while I enjoy quiet waters and golden sunsets as much as the next guy, I also know that nature is not a gentle muse if your plane or sail boat is caught in a storm, or your home is destroyed by a hurricane or tornado, or the levy breaks and your house floats away.

Nature is brutal and unforgiving and we have just been through another one of nature’s I’m-still-here-and-I’m-a-lot-bigger-than-you wake-up calls.

Many things bigger than us happen in life — floods, fires, cancer, car accidents, and more. They test us. They remind us that we haven’t the degree of control we’d like to have. The measure of our humanity is how we handle the tests.

The measure of a family is how it handles illness and death within it. The measure of a city is how it handles mass disaster or adversity. Consider how New York City dealt with 9/11: courage, strength, and fraternity. Ditto, Boston, New Orleans, and Newtown, Conn., facing their recent tragedies.

How did Toledo deal with the Level 3 snow and the wind and frozen streets of recent days? Pretty well. We stayed calm and we helped each other. City and county governments worked together to keep people safe. Mayor Mike Collins told me that he and Sheriff John Tharp felt the responsibility keenly. The mayor now has his staff looking at what they did wrong. He wants to be ready for whatever comes our way.

This tells me we can handle the long-range structural problems of poverty, gangs, and blight.

Dan Rogers of the Cherry Street Mission and Rodney Schuster of Catholic Charities have both told me, independently, that they have never experienced the equal of the generosity of the people of Toledo. Tell folks in this community there are people who need food or shelter, and they immediately step up.

Just before the big chill hit us, two local churches caught fire — St. Mark Baptist Church on a Friday and Richard’s Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ on a Saturday. St. Mark was destroyed. Both are central city churches, and when I heard about the fires, I felt a deep foreboding, because my wife and I attend a central city church and, living in another state some years ago, I belonged to a church that burned down. We rebuilt, but it was a sobering thing to see a couple hundred people spiritually orphaned, standing on a lawn watching their church burn. Imagine then, being totally physically orphaned — being homeless during a Level 3 weather emergency. Talk about being reminded of the limits of control.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the shelters of Toledo, to police officers and fire fighters, and to city workers, especially the Division of Streets, Bridges, and Harbor. I loved the picture of Mr. Collins meeting with some of those workers at their headquarters on Central Avenue — to thank them. Mr. Collins is getting a baptism by ice instead of fire. Like the rest of us, he had big plans, a full agenda, but, during his first days in office, nature gave him a hard right to the jaw.

There is surely more challenging weather to come. Stay warm. Stay close to your loved ones. Help your neighbor.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.

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