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We Hugged, We Smiled, and We Cried

“It’s our empathy and compassion for others that make us who we are. In doing the little things … we can embrace those traits no matter the weather.”

It was day four of triple-digit heat and air so thick with humidity you almost swim through it. Just after lunch, Strike Team Delta arrived at a home in Weslaco, TX. In the front yard, a mom and her adult son worked to clean up the mess left after the flood waters receded. Everything that could be salvaged sat in the driveway in a small area. Everything destroyed would later form much larger piles.

We started the tedious work of removing moldy drywall and insulation, pulling damaged cabinets, and scraping stubborn floor tiles. Strike Team member John Wasser spoke with the adult son during one of our breaks. He relayed to John this was his only day off this week so he was grateful for Team Rubicon being on site to help them start the road to recovery. He mentioned there was no way his mom was going to make as much progress on her own while he was back at work. And he said Team Rubicon’s help was probably the best birthday present he could have received right now.

Wait, what? The guy works six days a week while recovering from a devastating flood and is spending his birthday sifting through the broken pieces of his life. John knew Team Rubicon being there to help wasn’t enough. He waved me over and quietly mentioned the conversation. “See what you can do?”, he asked. John and I both knew it was a little thing. But it’s not the miles you’ve gotta walk that are the problem, it’s that small pebble in your shoe. So we decided to sweat the small stuff. I called the boss in operations and relayed the situation.

“We want a cake for this guy. Here’s his name.”

“Do you want plates and silverware?”

“Yeah, good call. And napkins.”

I gave John a quiet nod and we went back to work. Towards the end of the day, Operations arrived and gave me the thumbs up. I called for a break and let the team get cleaned up.

 

 

The smell of dampness and mold permeated the neighborhood. This family’s entire lives were stacked in the driveway. The debris that was now just memories of who they were sat in piles by the street. I’ll never forget the look of joy and gratitude that pierced through the sorrow as we sang happy birthday. We hugged, we smiled, and we cried. Then we ate cake. For ten minutes, the disaster faded away and we enjoyed each other’s company while celebrating another year of life for this young man. At that moment, I was reminded it’s not our ‘stuff’ that defines us; it’s our empathy and compassion for others that makes us who we are. In doing little things, like a birthday cake, we can embrace those traits no matter the weather. Sometimes, it’s good to sweat the small stuff.

Be thoughtful, be kind, and be safe.

Dan Pugh served as a Strike Team Leader on Operation Magic Valley. He is a volunteer and Regional Instructor for Team Rubicon. He joined in February 2018 after a 20-year career in public safety and emergency management. Dan is based in Wichita, KS.