Thursday, March 22, 2007

A reflection on some of our work

The following is a part of a longer piece by Dr. Bob Titlzer a tireless volunteer from Minnesota who has made about twenty trips to the Gulf and who is on our Board of Advisers. This excerpt is from a longer piece (posted in its entirety here) that deals with a home that some of our volunteers worked on with him. (I did only minor editing--breaking it into paragraphs)

"MARCH 5th: Twelve recruits and I arrived at Roy's place on a temperate, sunny, windless spring day. Yes, spring has already come to the Jordan River Bayou in Bay St. Louis, and there are flowers on some trees and shrubs. The recruits come on faith. I am trusted to bring them to a place where a needy and worthy survivor of Katrina will be helped by their willing hearts and willing hands.

Youth, energy, maturity, compassion, and sheer muscle will all be necessary to reach our goal : brighten Ray's outlook for the future. That is not, of course, exactly what I told these recruits when I petitioned them to participate, but I believe they will understand after they have met and worked alongside Roy, and heard his story , from the "horse's mouth", straight.

Y'all might recall my telling of Roy's plight and physical disabilities in prior letters, I won't repeat the details. Suffice it to say that a series of health setbacks, forced early retirement, and 35 feet of Katrina's seawater surge have forever altered his, his wife's and his sister-in-law's future.

This Wednesday, the remnants of the many machines, equipment, motors, pumps, tanks, boats, dock and deck which Roy planned to rehabilitate, repair, clean up or overhaul, lie like so much flotsam and jetsome of the tide, scattered over and around the property. A hundred or more volunteers have come and gone in the past 18 months, and have cleaned, repaired and reconstructed his home on stilts, and made it liveable for this family of three - all of them disabled. Today, we 13 volunteers, have come to clean and straighten up the yard, and hopefully, to bring a little more clarity and joy back into Roy's life.

Those who have not "walked in his shoes" will give this place a once over glance and quickly judge the owner to be a "junk collector" and his property " a blight on the neighborhood". Even among the chosen 12, there are already murmurs of "what are we doing here, wasting our time ?". In six arduous hours of pulling, dragging, carrying, shifting, lifting, triaging, rearranging, and , yes, trashing somethings as well, the question posed gets answered. Not by the manual labor itself, but by taking individual breaks, standing or sitting next to Roy in his wheelchair/scooter as he admires the hard work going on around him, and listening.

Roy is a great storyteller - speaking the truth behind the facts of his difficult, but bravely faced life - and engaging the listener(s). Reluctantly, he also hints at the wrenching feeling he must process as he watches, and tacitly agrees to, the rearranging and /or trashing of his dream projects in the yard. I am impressed by the determined, yet gentle way in which most of the 12 recruits convince Roy that what we are doing here today is in his, and his family's, best interests. This requires a giant leap of faith, and trust, and the ability to accept the losses, and move on. It has not been fun for Roy to look everyday for 18 months at the brokenness of his immediate environment, and still be willing to get up out of bed the next day and do what little he could endure, to "fix it up" and make things a little better.

Without the help of hundreds of strangers with their willing hearts and hands, Roy would have succumbed to exasperation and despair. But what has happened, and is happening right now, is, in Roy's own words of gratitude "an inspiration and encouragement to go on".

At the end of the day, all of the chosen 12, even the skeptics who wanted to put "everything in the trash heap and not save a damn thing that will just have to be moved another time", in their tired and aching bodies, covered with grimy dirt, walking to their van in mud covered shoes, sipping the last bottle of water, each one turned aside to find Roy one more time, up in the house, sitting with his grandson. They entered, one by one, not to say, "Goodbye, we are leaving now" , but to thank Roy for the privilege of being here to help , and to wish him happiness in the months ahead. It is not the first time I have seen tears in Roy's eyes, and I am sure it will not be the last time I see tears in ours. Now they will go and tell others in their volunteer group just exactly "what we were doing here today, [not] wasting our time"."

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