Last Sunday the rains and the winds raced through Montgomery County, Maryland, like a lion in winter.
The inconvenience of the sudden tornado-like weather became an emergency when the fire alarm went off inside the apartment building where I had been visiting with my friend's 88-year-old mother-in-law.
Eight of us stepped cautiously down nine flights of stairs in semi-darkness.
When we touched down on street level, I saw a gaggle of elderly renters gathering with wheelchairs and canes and walkers.
The first to bring bottled water with paper cups to share was a 97-year-young widow.
Another female tenant told me that she was a former opera singer in New York who knew Robert Merrill.
The woman with the green velvet slippers was hyperventilating. Her eyes favored fear. I instinctively began speaking the Yiddish of my youth. Her eyes sparkled. I held her hand and watched her breathing slow down to a waltz.
Each face was a portrait of courage. How many other false alarms did they escape during their lifetimes?