This past weekend I traveled to New Bern, North Carolina to help with the Hurricane Florence clean up. We arrived early Saturday morning at the command center. It was staffed with local residents who were grateful for our help and eager to provide assistance. It was stocked with mounds of donated equipment designed to help ensure us a safe and productive weekend as we offered ourselves as manual laborers in what could seem like an insurmountable task. We accepted our 12 person team assignment and headed out to help.
When we arrived at our designated work site, we encountered a grateful family that was eager to thank and assist us as we assisted them. The home we worked in that weekend had been built on stilts, many feet above the ground because, as our friend Rufus admitted, he had already lived through six hurricanes in his lifetime. However, despite their apparent preparation for the storm and prudent evacuation from what ended up being a lake of water that surrounded their home after Florence ravaged through their small town, the water that destroyed half of their home ended up coming in from above and not from below. Thus they ended up with a home that was only half livable and a huge task ahead of them because all of the wet walls, ceiling and insulation needed to be torn out in order to save the wood frame of their home from the creeping mold.
So, we went to work. For two days we ripped out moldy dry wall, pulled down soiled ceilings and swept, rolled and scooped damp insulation into bags. When we finally left on Sunday afternoon, there was a ten yard long pile of debris ready for pick up at the curb and a house that stood looking quite untouched on the outside, but completely stripped of all walls and homelike furnishings on the inside. Rufus and his family were still thankful. For although they had much work ahead of them, they recognized that the removal of all of that damp and moldy debris had helped to save what was left of their home so that they could rebuild the structure and resume their normal lives eventually.
As we drove away from New Bern, having checked back in all of our donated tools and equipment, I thought of Lady Liberty standing as a beacon in the night of our lives. Calling to us to come and drop our wretched refuse at her feet. Calling to others of us to come and pick up the wretched refuse and help to rebuild the lives of others in her America. A home where we all can reach out and lift up. A home where we can come together to rise above the inevitable storms to build better lives for ourselves and for those around us.