The details: It was a good day. We worked on two fence jobs today. Each was well to the east of Neosha. Pictures are available here.
The first job was very big and several groups (HODR, Americorps, Rural Compassion) worked together on it under Ed from Rural Compassion's leadership. Essentially it was restringing barbed wire fencing for a zillion miles. (ok, maybe a tad less ;))
We finished this one mid afternoon (did I mention it was a bit less than a zillion miles?) and so with our last couple of hours went to a second job almost as an afterthought. And yet, as so often happens, this added job, this job that almost didn't get touched today, became our largest contribution.
It was at the Tonklins' (not their real name). Physically we did not get all that much done (although the fence is now able to hold cows and we moved many downed branches), but we accomplished something more important: we helped someone cope.
I remember when we first went to Biloxi in October 2005, Darius and others stressed the importance of being present to listen to the victims who wanted to tell their story; who needed to tell their story. In December of that year I met Dr. Bob Titlzer who's street teams lived that mantra faithfully and who to this day personified the idea.
Since then I have continually been amazed at just how true that is. It has happened up and down the Gulf Coast on every trip, in Buffalo, in Enterprise, in Bradford, even after local fires. But no where more than here today.
Mr. Tonklin is an elderly farmer. Stop for a moment and conjure up an image of an elderly small time farmer who has survived the good years and the bad years for the past two generations and you probably have him pegged. For instance, he told us he worked 15 straight years without missing a single day of milking the cows twice a day. I could go on, but that probably explains the type of guy Mr Tonklin is better than anything I could write. Not a single day off. 15 years. 'Enough said.
Mr. Tonklin epitomizes self sufficiency. Of doing it himself. His whole life he has been that guy who could do it all without outside reliance. But then the tornado came. And he was overwhelmed. His house was severely damaged, his farm was littered with everything from neighbors' trailers and roofs, to city garbage cans to trees (some ripped from the ground, others sheared off, still others twisted to the ground.
In the days since the tornado, the Tonklins have been helped by many volunteers, neighbors, and family members. Today however, Mr Tonklin had to talk. He had to tell about the storm, about the cows that he lost, and the cows that lived. He had to tell about his roof, his fences, and how his family all made it trough alive. He had to tell us about many things. About how sometimes in the worst of times, good comes from no where. He had to tell us he never would have been able to come back if it weren't for all the help he received. He had to tell us through the tears that it was ok to ask for help. He had to say "Thank you."
So we listened.
It was the most important thing we did all day.