Tuesday, September 6, 2011

That’s What Friends Are For

As you know, Irene paid us a visit a little over a week ago and as a result, Sarah’s friend, Taylor, and her family were flooded.

Like most of you, I have heard innumerable news stories over the years about floods damaging homes but I always just said, “Oh, how awful that must be,” and went on with my day, never really understanding the full import of what was being talked about.

But now? Now I know. After walking through two flooded houses in as many days, I really know.

It is awful. Truly awful.

Stinking water seeps into the corners and crevices of everything—not just your house, but your life, your belongings, your very existence. Flooding’s impact on a family is so severe that I can imagine many families marking their family history with before the flood and after the flood.

The Cecil family has been through a tough thing. And it will be tough thing for a long time to come. But I have to tell you that they were such an inspiration to me as we and their other friends worked together to get them moved.

At one point, Taylor’s mom, Regina, suddenly turned to me and said, “Becky, have you heard that new worship song that just came out?”

And then she stopped right in the middle of the muddle of her her life and started singing it to me. I thought, “What an inspiring example of someone singing through the storms of life.”

I also heard Regina and her husband talking several times about how they were praying about this decision and about that decision as they tried their best to make some order out of the chaos that had upended their lives. Throughout the whole experience, their lives were propelled by praise and by prayer.

To make the whole situation even more challenging, the family packed up their house on Monday and Tuesday and on Wednesday school started. (Five days late.) Regina teaches French and Spanish at the High School Sarah attends so she had her hands more than full trying to get things organized before starting teaching.

Although Sarah and Taylor would have definitely preferred to be in school rather than cleaning up after a flood, I was happy to see them managing to find things to smile about, even while sorting through Taylor’s special things and deciding which were ruined and which could be salvaged.

That’s what friends are for.

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At one point in our work, Steve (who had been helping some other families) stopped by to check on us. He was trying to kiss me but was having trouble working around the hat. (And he knew better than to remove the hat altogether because he—of all people—knew the horror of the hair hidden underneath.

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The lighter moments that happened provided a much needed balance to the grim reality of what was around us. During the course of those two days I learned that after the floodwaters recede, the aftermath--the unpleasant, inescapable aftermath—is just beginning.

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Cleaning up a disaster and moving at the same time is quite the challenge. I don’t know about you, but the few times our family has moved we spent several weeks collecting moving boxes, wrapping materials, tape, etc. Taylor’s family however, did it with no prep whatsoever, having to find boxes and supplies on the fly and wading through all sorts of messes to find out which precious memories and family memorabilia had survived the baptism.

They were able to locate a few boxes here and there and when the boxes ran out, plastic bins and large trash bags did the trick.

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Since I knew our work would be done in a steamy, unairconditioned house, I actually donned a pair of shorts for the job. This is not something I do lightly since my white legs give off a glow that could light up Los Angeles at midnight. But hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. (Even if it does alarm small children.)

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Midway through our second day of packing and cleaning, I got the happy opportunity to be on the other end of the “meal delivered to the workers” scenario. A couple of women from our church (thanks Bibber and Marie!) not only took all the wet clothes and bedding to be washed, but they also whipped up lunch for our whole crew. We had ourselves a feast by the trash pile--grilled burgers with all the fixings, beans, pasta salad, and brownies.

That’s what friends are for.

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Some people sat on the ground to eat, some used the ironing board. And just so you know? An ironing board really does make a dandy dining surface. I can’t believe that Martha Stewart hasn’t featured one in her magazine yet.

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Do you see the washing machine to the left?

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About a month ago, it overfilled while the Cecil family was gone and their kitchen and dining room flooded. They had to move out all their appliances and furniture, rip up the kitchen and living room flooring, buy a new washer and dining room table, and install all new flooring. And less than a month later?

They flooded again.

My favorite line of the whole day was when one of their friends who knew about the earlier flooding stopped by their house. He stood and surveyed the stripped-to-the-board floors and finally quipped, “What? You didn’t like the color?”

Did I mention that smiles help?

Especially when your belongings end up in front of your house, waiting to be carted off to the dump.

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Especially when irreplaceable photos come close to being ruined. As a picture lover, this scene just broke my heart. We had to carefully remove each of the pictures from the sodden backgrounds and lay them out to dry. Fridges can be replaced. Precious wedding photos? Not so much.

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As I was driving into the Cecils’ neighborhood one day, I saw one of the many Red Cross vehicles that have come into town. It just really struck me to see one up close because I’ve only ever seen Red Cross vehicles on TV newscasts.

But seeing this truck brought it all home for me. This was not an incident some grim faced news anchor was giving a spiel about 3,000 miles away. No. This was in Manteo. My home. My town.

Nothing quite prepares you for the day when disaster relief services have to come to the place you live. You can’t help but be grateful. And humbled.

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At the end of our second day of helping out, Sarah and I stopped at the grocery store on our way home so that I could get a meal together for another family that evening. As I look at this picture that Sarah snapped (make-up is gone and the view underneath the hat is scary indeed), I was struck by the fact that I look tired. And grubby. But I also look happy.

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I was happy because the experience reminded all over again that nothing lifts your mood any more than taking your heart, your time, and your own two hands and donating them to someone who is need. Boxes don’t pack themselves and papers don’t wrap themselves around dinner plates themselves.

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That’s what friends are for.

4 Had Something To Say (Just click here!):

Anonymous said...

It is so sad to look at these pictures. To have their personal belongings laid out for everyone to see I imagine there has to be some feeling, not only a loss of material items but also a loss of privacy. The pain of losing things that can not be replaced like those pictures laid on the lawn the items that insurance can't replace, kids pictures, just the preacious things like that. I think it is so wonderful that people reach out to one another in times like this. We all should be this way everday. People have such compassion and love when tragedy occurs, I wish it could be that way all the time without the tragedy. Your family will be blessed for the love and kindness that you have shown along with many others that have done the same. It really warms my heart and breaks it all at the same time to read about and see the pictures and I will continue to keep you all in my prayers.

Dana Hart
Greenville SC

Anonymous said...

The photo of the photos break my heart!

As for the picture of you after a hard day's work, you look wonderful. If you remained looking "fresh as a daisy," people would either hate you (not that that would ever be possible) or want to know what your secret was.

The destruction is devastating, Becky!

How's Taylor's family doing now?

Gentle Hugs,

Jodi

brooke r. said...

Well, I'm so grateful that what I suspected - that Sarah can't help but having a call to help serve - was correct. I'm also grateful that she is able to be there for her dear friend during such a difficult time. Crazy to say about a young woman who has been through so much already - her own cancer, your cancer scare, your cancer, loosing her grandfather, watching her mom loose her father - but I'm sure this experience is making her stronger, in a different way then the cancer and loosing a beloved one.

Like you I've only watched nature's destruction from a far. I've been close to nature and it's destruction, and then there was Va Tech, I've come close, but I've never lost anyone or anything (thank God, esp. Va Tech) like Sarah's friend. I remember stories of Hazel but that was my grandparents', great aunts' and uncles lives' lives, not mine and thus so detached from me.

I know - we all say "well, we all made it, we have each other".. but, yeah, while a lot of the stuff I have, in the end I really wouldn't miss, but there are some things.. things I don't use every day at all, Dad things (Dad who died in April 2010) that if I lost would be rather? utterly? horribly? (something like those words) devastating.

All y'all continue to be in my prayers. Oh, and tears! Those little islands that y'all call home have a piece of my heart too. Also, as the Episcopal News Service reminds me, Vermont and other areas in the northeast need my prayers too.

Karen said...

We had a bad flood in our area exactly three years ago this week. Like you, it really hits when you see the Red Cross - as well as the Salvation Army - driving down the streets. I was lucky in I only got a little bit of water in my garage. The other side of the river, some ended up with 4-6 feet of water in their basements and first floors.

In our local paper today,there was a story of one of the houses that flooded. It had been empty ever since, and the new owners were tearing down paneling in the basement. They came across a missing cornerstone from the local Greek Byzantine Catholic Church that had been missing for about 25 years. The parish was thrilled to get it back. Out of devastation, came something wonderful.