There is a story that is well known among my people (and by “my people” I mean LDS people, not the Scappalachian people) wherein Brigham Young, having found out about the great distress of companies of LDS pioneers crossing the plains with only hand carts and fatal winter weather, stood up in a church meeting and told the church body to gather their teams, fill their wagons and go get those Saints stranded on the plains. Now. So, they did.
We had a similar experience last Sunday at church. At the very start of the meeting our bishop read a letter from a higher up church authority in which we were told, much like those early Saints in Salt Lake, to go. Only we weren’t told to go to the plains. We were told to go to The Ohio. Except, of course, they didn’t actually call it The Ohio, because that is a rather archaic name for that state which nobody, except the big state university, uses these days: The Ohio State University.
Like there is an imposter university out there tricking young folks into signing up for classes? “Hey little college boy . . . do you want to play football for us? Do you? You know you dooo-ooooo . . . We have cute cheerleaders and lots of bee-eeer.”
Anyway, people in Ohio needed help. No, they weren’t stuck on the plains or anything, but there was massive flooding in the Findlay area, and members of our church for states around were asked to go and help if at all possible. Our church, in conjunction with The United Way and The Red Cross and FEMA, was heading up the clean up efforts in Findlay. So McH took some time off and we went (leaving the kiddos with my parents, of course).
First, let me say, we were not asked to go just to help other members of our church. We were there to help whoever needed help, and wow, lots of people needed help. Imagine having your basement flood to the point that you have 10 inches of standing water on the floor above the basement. That is what happened to a house we were sent to, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
When we first got to the church building at Findlay, Ohio, we signed in and then were sent to a training room. This is a summary of the training:
1. When you are cleaning walls with bleach in order to retard the growth of mold and mildew, wear gloves and masks .
2. Don’t mix the bleach and Mr. Clean together or you’ll create mustard gas (Mustard Gas?!? Seriously?!?)
3. Don’t walk unnecessarily through piles of rubble — there could be rusty nails or rats in them.
4. Fish have been swimming in these basements. They’ll be dead by now, but don’t be surprised by the smell. Or the possible snakes.
5. Comfort the homeowners in whatever way possible (well, you know, within legal and moral reason, anyway).
6. Don’t walk into the house and say, “Oh gross!!!! This is horrible!!! What a stinky mess!!!!” The homeowners pretty much get that, and they are pretty much devastated by it. No need to point it out.
There were a few other points of training, but really it was mostly common sense. After the training we were given our bright yellow T-shirts which would identify us as legitimate volunteers and not just people looking to loot houses:
I have never seen McH wear anything so colorful. Ever. Annnd I had an 80’s flashback because the only shirt sizes they had left were large and extra large. For those of you who don’t remember the 80’s (for whatever reason), large and extra large were the first two sizes everybody ran out of back then because BIG T-shirts were in. REALLY BIG T-shirts. Plus, I was also wearing the Reeboks I got in 1986.
So, we changed into our shirts and then waited for our work assignment in a room normally used for singing time for primary children. This was like no primary room I had ever seen before since it had been turned into Command Center Central: desktops and laptops everywhere, people on cell phones and land lines, maps and filing cabinets. I was almost surprised they didn’t have a big, fancy satellite/ map screen thingy up on the wall.
Anyway, we were sent west about 20 miles to the town of Ottowa. I wish I had taken pictures of the huge piles of rubble and ruined home items on curbs everywhere. The state apparently has it’s dump trucks going around and around the neighborhoods every day to truck the garbage out. Wow, I hate to call it garbage because, in addition to ruined carpet and drywall, it was people’s stuff: furniture, mementos, knick-knacks, and stuff that was special to them. Honestly, that is a large reason why I didn’t take pictures of it. It seemed hypocritical of me, who is so protective of my privacy on the internet, to display pictures of other people’s tragedy on my blog. But I do have one picture I’m going to post which shows more of me than has ever been shown here, and also gives you an idea of the extent of the damage:
You see how much of the wall was ripped out due to water damage? The entire first floor of the house was that way. All of the flooring was also ripped out, leaving a million little carpenter’s nails in the old hardwood flooring that had been covered by layers of sub-flooring, linoleum, carpet, etc. See the hole on the floor in front of me? That went straight down to the cellar, which no longer had standing water, but which smelled bad nonetheless. We pulled nails out of the floors in this house for.ever.er.
But I’m not complaining. I can’t imagine actually being one of the homeowners who had to rip up their entire first floor and throw out most of their things (including appliances — there weren’t even cabinets or sinks left in this house, just the bathtub).
I am so glad we had the opportunity to go help. It was amazing to see and hear about this little community pulling together and helping one another, and it was so amazing to drive around and see all the bright yellow T-shirts, and the green vests (FEMA volunteers, I think) doing whatever needed to be done. From what we were told, most of the townspeople weren’t overly excited about the help from the federal government because they like to be self-sustaining and rely on each other (my kind of town!); but still, they were grateful for it, and they were grateful for us.
I am sorry so many people’s lives were devastated, but I am so grateful that we were able to help. Bad things happen to good people all the time, but good people working together can make a lot of headway in overcoming the bad. It is our responsibility as children of God, or as members of the human race (whichever way you prefer to view it — I choose both) to bear one another’s burdens and to “strengthen the feeble knees.”
I know there were many, many people who were able to stay much loner and help out much more than we were, but seeing so many people pitch in where and as they could really helped buoy my faith in humanity. The hours I spent kneeling in nails maybe didn’t equal the hours of others who helped, and I felt really bad that we couldn’t stay longer; but then I remembered the starfish story. You know, the one about the person walking across a beach littered with thousands of starfish that had been brought ashore and stranded by the tide. This person was picking them up, one by one, and throwing them back out to sea. When another person passed by and saw what the first was doing he said, “You will never be able to save them all. You will never be able to make a difference.” And the first person, picking up a starfish and flinging it back into the water, said, “I just made a difference to that one.”
This, folks, is what it should really be all about.
And George, if you’re out there, Tewt the Newt says hello.