During Spring Break of my senior year in high school, I decided to do something different. Along with 14 other students, I traveled to West Virginia to help people recover from a recent flood. The trip would consume my entire spring break, but I didn’t care. Helping out others and experiencing West Virginia seemed much more exciting and rewarding than sitting around at home. Crammed into a bright yellow school van, we left at 7:30 am for Logan County, West Virginia, almost 9 hours away. The trip was rough, but in no time we were crossing into Logan County. When we first arrived, I was amazed to see how devastating the flood had been. Chunks of wood from homes littered roads, and mud covered everything. I figured the town would be in bad shape, but jeez did I underestimate its condition.
The first working day in Logan county we divided into two groups to help two separate families. One group went off to help a single mother while my group went to help and elderly couple with their home. The couple, George and Marie, was in their late sixties but they had the youth of newlywed 30 year olds. Our task was to rip out moldy parts of the house and replace them. George told us that during the flood, the water level reached almost 3 feet high. It was no wonder so much damage had been done to the area.
During that first day, we pried up floorboards, cut open walls, and ripped out insulation. The work was tough, but it felt good. The second day was much of the same, breaking and replacing, breaking and replacing. It was on the third day that things became a little different. A few hours into working that day, I remember vividly George approaching me while I pried up a floorboard. 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. After about 20 minutes, he told me to follow him outside. I put down my crowbar and followed him down the hall, out the door, and into 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 sharing more about his life. He told me how he enters the car in the local car show every year. The car was his pride and joy, an attachment to his youth that he cherished. From there George continued to talk 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, but also most beautiful things in the world. George opened up to me in a way that many people rarely do to even those they love. Out of everything that I did during those few days in West Virginia, talking with George was most important. The work I did on his house meant nothing. His house can always be rebuilt. Sure, it may have taken longer without our help, but it can be done. By spending time listening to George, comforting him, and showing that I gave a damn was more important than anything else I could have done. In one year, the man lost his oldest son and his house and was broken from it. I can’t go back and change either of those events, but I at least showed I cared. In life, sometimes all anyone wants is to be heard. However, there isn’t always someone there to talk to. Showing a genuine interest in who someone is and they’ve experienced is the greatest form of respect I know of. I believe in the patience to listen, and the power it has between people.