Reset the Level

The first step toward sustainability isn’t necessarily an action. 

It had been a long week already as we prepared for a much-anticipated photo shoot at our high-country project while continuing to push hard to wrap up all the construction tasks that demanded our time and attention. On the way home that Friday afternoon we agreed that we were looking forward to the weekend and a chance to relax a little and rest up. 


A short while after arriving I happened to be in the vicinity of the laundry room where I detected the unmistakable aroma of raw fish, I hurried in to check on our old deep freeze, only to confirm the worst. At some point over the past few days, the aging appliance had given up the ghost. Worse still, we had been stocking up so it was crammed full. Our weekend plans were about to change.

Almost everything in the freezer was either just beginning to thaw or still cold enough to salvage, although we did discard a few items out of caution. We transferred all the remaining contents into ice chests and covered each with bags of ice. 

Then we started cooking everything we could, a process that lasted through the next two days, and we contacted some young families in our little town who were more than happy to help us avoid wasting the rest.

By the time the last of the cooking, preserving, and storing was completed on Sunday night, we were exhausted, and along the way we had been forced to remove the empty freezer and clean up the unavoidable mess from all the defrosting that had occurred. Now we would need to start searching for a replacement unit.

I was feeling pretty sorry for myself when I was overtaken by an embarrassingly sheepish realization. What we had just experienced was definitely a first-world problem, not a matter of life and death.

Over the course of our “lost weekend,” a hurricane had slammed into Puerto Rico, flooding thousands of structures, leaving the entire population in the dark as the power system was destroyed, and forcing many into the open to deal with the miserable elements. 

At the same time, at the extreme opposite end of the continent, a typhoon spawned in Asia blasted parts of Alaska where it literally swept homes right off their foundations and made travel next to impossible.

As I contemplated those disasters there was no way to avoid thinking about similar recent news stories from around the world. Floods of unimaginable proportions in Pakistan and elsewhere, brutal wildfires in Europe and North America, mass starvation, and dislocation across many parts of Africa, just to mention a few.

Sometimes we are given the opportunity to reset the level.

For someone who has spent his adult life in the shelter industry, it’s hard to witness the vulnerability of people across the globe without being frustrated by the lack of commitment from so many to raise our standards. We can do better, we can help people make better choices and access the resources they need to live safer, more abundant lives. 

It comes down to priorities. It is also good to be occasionally reminded that the first step toward sustainability is humility.