Clear, effective communication is always critical in a post-crisis situation. In Pittsfield, town leaders were focused on making sure everyone received the most accurate information in a timely way. Town meetings were held daily, resulting in regular updates on a bulletin board outside the church. The townspeople’s capacity to respond with resilience to the disaster was partly a result of the way the local government responded. People saw their elected representatives acting quickly, competently and transparently, which strengthened their trust and confidence in one another. Community members facilitated the flow of clear information in and out of the community without phones or electricity. People offered help, support and resources without having to be asked. More volunteers and equipment kept showing up every day. People instinctively tapped into their own generosity. Even those who had lost everything offered what they could for the benefit of the community as a whole.
A perhaps under-acknowledged characteristic of the town during this intense time was its sense of humor. The first town meeting started off with a joke. And the final gathering included a hilarious show tune by the local constable who could not remember that the curfew imposed during the crisis was from sundown to sunrise and not the other way around. The blunder repeatedly sent townspeople into hysterics. The community shared a lot of laughter to help them cope with the loss and devastation. When Traci returned to find her home destroyed, she let off some steam by pulling from the wreckage an old canvas she had painted years before. Armed with a Sharpie she scrawled the sentiment that would soon resonate with many Vermonters:
This image soon became associated with Pittsfield’s incredible spirit and its distinctive sense of humor. Months later, Traci no longer identified as much with this sentiment. She felt the need to transform these old words into an new message that represented her feelings more accurately:
Through it all, the folks of Pittsfield managed to nurture a sense of lightness, deep gratitude, adaptability and optimism. They enjoyed the sense of rekindled community: “It’s kind of nice. I mean obviously we want power, I wish my house wasn’t wrecked, but it’s been so fantastic. We kind of wish it was like this all of the time,” said Marion Abrams, a Pittsfield-based filmmaker making a documentary about the experience.
Over the holidays, I spent a weekend in Vermont and finally got the chance to hear this story of community resilience first-hand. Traci called it magic. “In the first days after the flood, I was in shock,” she said. “I could sense people mourning for me… That’s pretty magical when your whole community feels for you when you cannot feel for yourself.”