At first glance this ragtag group of road-weary travelers looked unsure of how they were going to be able to work together and accomplish anything. A seemingly disparate group of personalities made up the cast of characters that would in short order create an impenetrable bond of love, strength and hope. Slowly eyeing one another and trying desperately to break the ice it soon became clear that each one would share a personality and many talents that would cement our bond to see us through the next few days.
Al and Joe. The first friendly faces that greeted me at the Saturday orientation meeting. Their kindness and charm was supported by a determination to do whatever needed to be done. Again on Monday they sat next to me in the Red Bank Fellowship Hall that first evening and I am so thankful to have had them beside me for the week.
That first night I immediately felt the presence of, then saw the eyes of the person that was to become my great friend. Kathy had the strength and fortitude to guide the “newbie” through her first ERT experience and quietly and firmly demonstrate the meaning of our “Christian Presence.” At first it seemed that we had to have been sisters in a former life. But when it was clear that we had the same sense of humor, the same sensibilities (or lack thereof) and similar ways of dealing with what life throws at us we concluded that we must be twins separated at birth. After mucking out a four-foot crawl space for several hours and sharing our stinky joy with the folks at Starbucks, Kathy and I affectionately dubbed ourselves the “Tramps of Joisey” and gave up the quest for any familial connection.
There was Greg, the Lone Ranger. The quiet type, capable of exerting immense amounts of strength, persistence and fortitude regardless of personal pain and demons. To me, Greg demonstrated the kind of determination that comes from learning to compartmentalize your life in order to do what needs to be done, not capable of self-care until the job is done. This skill becomes a tremendous gift when used in service to others.
Dear, sweet Susie has such a kind way with compliments. Her quiet voice and soft encouragement were a meditative retreat from the physically hard and emotionally exhausting work of our days.
I watched in awe as our youngest member Reagan, metamorphosed from a painfully shy young girl into hard working, integral part of our team.
Nora and Mary had the ability to keep the energy level high enough for all of us to tag along for the ride. These farm girls to the core have such big hearts and I believe that Nora may have saved the life of a man close to the edge.
I will always remember the care and patience that Debby took to painstakingly go through picture frames and old family photos, carefully lay them in the sun and take the leap of faith that they would be there for our friends, intact. I will always be able to see the light in her eyes as she told us about her kids that made Christmas Tree ornaments for her to bring and the joy in her voice as she told us about delivering them to a classroom where the children had received a donated tree just the day before.
Doug, a self-professed “non-athlete” proved he had the strength of Hercules. I believe he even surprised himself in the process! His power at the work sites along with his character and charm radiating from his journaling closet each morning were an inspiration. I had to peek in and disturb his space on our last day in order to take home with me the vivid visual of an artists’ contemplation in the midst of chaos.
Dry humor Don. Loved this guy’s quiet calm, his acerbic wit and his stalwart determination.
And last, but by no means least, Jason. Jason is an outstanding leader. He so very effectively took this immensely divergent group of strong personalities, helped bond them together with loving guidance to create a Christian presence that provided comfort, care and unbelievable physical accomplishment to the survivors we touched. Even on our first day, when we were ready to dig in, get dirty and get moving, and the Grace UMC just wasn’t able to make decisions, Jason reassured us of our mission, negotiated the tasks and contacts which were needed and led us patiently through our restlessness. Jason was our gorilla-glue.
At the church where we stayed I had a couple of angels. Not sure who they were, but so very thankful for them nonetheless. The first was my coffee angel. I am not a pleasant human in the morning without my coffee and someone so kindly had it made by the time I dragged myself down to the kitchen for it. Thank you. Another was the CPAP angel. This particular angel made sure that all who needed them remembered their machines. The windows never trembled and I never needed earplugs (of which I had a generous supply.)
I remain awestruck by the serendipity of our first day and the accomplishment of our team. In our waiting at Grace Methodist we were joined by Brian from Quebec. Although I spent 2 1/2 days riding around with and working beside Brian, the only things I really know about him is that he was born and raised in Quebec (even though he never once said “eh”), his wife is from Philadelphia and he has a 2 year old child. After Thanksgiving with his wife’s family Brian felt the need to help in New Jersey. He sent his family home and by virtue of fate hooked up with us to work for a few days. Brian stayed elsewhere at night, he showed up just after breakfast each day and left us as quietly as he came on Thursday. The chainsaw gang and a couple others also joined us in our waiting on Tuesday morning.
Then we performed our “flash mob”. We descended on the site of our other half and all of us chipped in to get at least 2 days of work accomplished in one. I should have been clocked with at least a couple of swinging pieces of trim. Others should have been gored by tile shards, choked by airborne particles or injured by flailing hammers. But there were no injuries. There were no arguments. There was hard work, laughter and teamwork that allowed a young boy to get off the school bus and exclaim that his demolished first floor looked so much better than the chaotic mess of the last three weeks.
Sorry Floyd, we never pulled out our puppy cards. We thought of creative ways to get around our given assignment. We certainly mentioned the cards and the probability that we should have used them. But we were such a loving, cohesive family that we really didn’t need them. We knew grace last week.