I’m getting really close to finalizing this, so any criticism would really help.
During Spring Break last year, I decided to travel to Logan County, West Virginia with 14 other students to help people recover from a recent flood. I remember first pulling into the town and seeing how devastating the flood had been. Chunks of wood from homes littered roads, and mud covered everything. Houses left and right looked abandoned, with ruined couches, refrigerators, and air conditioners in trash piles outside of them. I figured the town would be in bad shape, but boy did I underestimate its condition.
The first working day in Logan County I was put in a group that would help an elderly couple with their home. The couple, George and Marie, was in their late sixties and lived alone in a small, one story house, built by George himself. The flood left water damage over 3 feet high, devastating the house’s structure. George had already worked tirelessly on the house with one of his sons for the previous 3 weeks, only fixing one room. He was so happy to have help because the work would get done so much faster. Our task was to rip out moldy parts of the house and replace them.
During that first day, we pried up floorboards, cut open walls, and ripped out insulation. The work was tough, but it felt rewarding. The second day was much of the same, ripping out moldy parts of the house and replacing them. It was on the third day that things became a little different. A few hours into working, George approached me while I pried up a floorboard in the sunroom. He began talking about how happy he was to have our help and how great it was for us to sacrifice our time. He kept rambling on and on, eventually reaching how today’s youth are losing sight of the importance of such work. It was after about 20 minutes that he told me to follow him outside. I put down the crowbar and followed him down the hall, out the door, and to the garage. As he lifted the garage door, I saw a spectacular sight. In that garage was one of the oldest and well-kept cars I have ever seen. For the life of me I can’t remember what year or model it was, but it really didn’t matter. It was in that garage that George began opening up about his life. He told me how he had entered the car in the local car show every year for the past 2 decades. The car was his pride and joy, an attachment to his youth that he cherished. From there, he picked up picture frames of his family, telling me about them and the experiences they shared together. He kept talking and talking, telling me more about his life; about his childhood, about his job, and then about his oldest son, who had committed suicide just a year ago.
Watching a grown man cry is one of the saddest, yet most beautiful things in the world. George opened up to me in a way that many people rarely do, even to those they love. Out of everything I did during those few days in West Virginia, spending the time to listen to George was most important. The work I did on his house meant nothing. He was fully capable of getting it done, even if it did take him longer without help. George didn’t need a bunch of kids to provide manual labor. With everything he had dealt with over the past year, he needed a different kind of healing. I can’t go back and change the flood or his son’s suicide, but I can care. In life, sometimes all anyone wants to do is share their story, but most times there isn’t someone there to listen. Showing a genuine interest in who someone is and what they’ve experienced is the greatest form of respect I know of. I believe in the patience to listen, and the power it has to heal.