When Louis Comeau headed into work April 8, 2003, he had no idea his life was about to take a tragic turn. As the accomplished attorney rounded a bend on Route 22, a large block of ice flew off a passing truck and slammed into his car. He didn’t have time to react. “It went through the windshield and shattered his skull,” Comeau’s wife, Jani Spurgeon, recalled… (Press-Republican)
This was one of the stories that my wife and I learned early on after arriving in Essex. Even before meeting Mr. Comeau I heard the story from others. I also heard how the community had pulled together to support the family during the darkest weeks after the accident. I was impressed with the depth of empathy among neighbors, the sense of responsibility, the sense of extended family. I remembered the small, tight-knit community where I had spent four years of boarding school.
I’ve only glimpsed faint shades of this since, while teaching at Santa Fe Preparatory School in New Mexico, for example. Living in Washington, DC and Paris and Rome I belonged to looser, more fluid and transient communities. Perhaps it was the places I lived or the people I associated with. Perhaps it was me, my age, my preference. But the idea of community had grown abstract and peripheral for me.
I met Mr. Comeau in person several months after we started renovating a house in Essex. At first we simply exchanged casual greetings passing on the street or when he walked his dog past our front porch. And then one summer afternoon our neighbor invited me up on to her front porch for a cool beer and to get to know Mr. Comeau. He was smiling. He’s always smiling. He told me that he had known my father, that they had overlapped as lawyers a couple of decades prior. He entertained us with anecdotes. He was charming and complimentary. He laughed. We all laughed. It was easy to understand the community’s embrace when his luck faltered in 2003. It was easy to accept that I wanted to be a part of this community.
Reading the article, “Family pushes for proposed snow-removal law“, this morning reminded me that support and nurturing are only one part of a tight-knit community. Maybe they are the easy part. It’s human to reach out and help those we know personally, those we care about. But it’s also easy to stop there, to nourish our immediate community and stop there.
Almost eight years after Mr. Comeau’s life-altering accident, his wife, Jani Spurgeon is transforming his tragedy into a common good. This is more than a close-to-home illustration of civic responsibility. Ms. Spurgeon is transcending loss and hurt and suffering in an effort to help others far beyond Essex, far beyond the community who reached out to her. She is distilling value from devastation. And she is inspiring all of us in the process!