The fire broke out in the early morning. It traveled quickly through the walls of the white house on the corner lot. The 69 year-old Ralph Waldo Emerson rushed out of his home calling for help.
Townspeople throughout Concord, MA. came running to his aid. They included Louisa May Alcott, who with her sisters, were armed with baskets to rescue the books in his library.
On a recent tour, one of the historians pointed out a common feature of his home and others at the time. Hanging from the back stairway, were two buckets –numbered to correspond specifically with your house.
When a fire in town broke out, it was your duty to grab your buckets and run to the aid of your neighbor – regardless of what you were doing and whether you liked them or not.
Once the fire was extinguished, you were required to leave your buckets with the fire department. They would take a full accounting of who came to help and who stayed home. If you failed to help your neighbor, you would be imposed with a tax (and probably a dose of shame or embarrassment.)
The townspeople went beyond their duty and raised the necessary funds to not only restore Emerson’s home but to send him on a trip to Europe while repairs were being completed. Upon his return, school was canceled for the day, so the children could greet Emerson at the train station and escort him to his once again livable home.
I long for the days of buckets and duties. Where it was expected that we would all come to the aid of our fellow citizens regardless of our own distractions or affinity towards him or her.
Today, as then, the fires are not always literal. Life’s devastating forces can come in many forms – poverty, hate and even a pandemic, chief among them.
If you listen carefully, regardless of where you live, you can hear the siren call of these fires amongst us.
When we do, I hope we can all grab a bucket (mask) and do our duty.