Nothing really prepares you for the realities of what you experience on your first Team Rubicon operation. My first two days in Calhoun County, Alabama, I was assigned to a damage assessments team – Strike Team Charlie – exactly where I wanted to be. I was going to get to put my training into action. I thought I knew what to expect.
We spent time out in the community knocking on doors, going to houses in total devastation, only to be told they were fine and so blessed but could we please go check on their neighbor down the street? Every single person, without fail, has been more concerned about their neighbors than themselves.
We were greeted with smiles, hugs, blessings, hot biscuits, and warm handshakes. Amongst all this devastation and chaos, the resiliency and tenacity of these communities started opening my eyes. I was learning. These people were astounding me.
Today was different from days one and two. Today we worked core operations: tarping roofs, doing some debris removal, covering broken windows, etc. As we prepped this house for repair, I was up on a roof. We waited for some things we needed to complete a complicated and unique job. While up there, I started to really look around. And listen. And watch. I was observing an elderly couple across the street sifting through the rubble of what used to be their home. There was nothing left standing. I could see a brand new bathtub in the middle of the field of dirt, nothing else around it. Just that lone, claw footed bathtub. The husband had a plastic grocery bag in his hand trying to find something, anything, they could put into that bag. They walked in circles for a long, long, time kicking over stones. I saw him bring back a plant hanger and put it in the trunk and gently seat his wife in the car with a drink to get her out of the sun.
Then he went back to kicking rocks. His car was parked next to our truck. I started to cry while I was on that roof. My team would be shocked to know this because I’m sort of the class clown.
Then I looked over at the field directly in front of me and a young man was stacking cars and miscellaneous debris onto a huge pile. There were four young neighbor children running around, the youngest maybe two or three years old. The oldest no older than seven or so. Bob looked up and said, “I can’t stop watching those kids. They’re really something.” I was on the roof and couldn’t hear real clearly but the reason for his words was because those babies were screaming at the top of their lungs to the man who was working hard all alone. “Hey, do ya need any help? Can we help you?” The wind was whipping. It was loud out in that dirt field where the houses use to be but those babies were eager to help as best they could!
Yeah, I came here to learn. Mission accomplished in spades. I’ve learned that I don’t need to learn every aspect of an operation in a day. I’ve learned the joy of finding a home with strangers who aren’t strangers but feel more like family than my actual relatives. I now know what true humanity is. I’ve seen it in all its glory in Jacksonville, Angel, Piedmont, Anniston and the surrounding communities of Alabama. I’ll never take for granted what deploying means again.
For the record, I think I found a new place to find my center…I’ll just climb on top of the nearest roof top. The view is beautiful no matter what’s on the canvas.