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“Need help?” The man standing in front of me was clean, his most notable feature. Everyone else was caked in mud. Stunned, I said “Pardon me?” He said it again, “Do you need help? I have a really large dolly in my truck too.” It sunk in. He was a perfect stranger, offering to help. For no reason, other than he just wanted to.
Did we need help? Absolutely. I was at my colleague, my friend’s house, with his wife, family members and other friends, trying to haul everything up out of his basement that had been submerged in muddy river waters for several days. Water that had reached all the way up to the ceiling. Day 1 had been heartbreaking. Personal belongings…photo albums, Christmas decorations, memories…just carried out soaking wet and dumped on the lawn. Not much to be salvaged. It’s Day 2 and we’re now doing demolition. Everything must go: soupy, soggy drywall and insulation, baseboards, cupboards, and shelves. The current challenge was the carpet and underlay. Soaked, it felt as though it weighed a million tonnes, and it was muddy. I’d been working with A to pull it up. We were attempting to cut it into pieces sized so people could easily carry it up the basement steps, but struggled as the exacto knife kept getting caked in the wet, soupy mud and wouldn’t cut. Everyone was exhausted. The family had probably been working 12 hours a day, way more than me.
“John”, our stranger and new best friend, introduced himself to the homeowners and got to work, getting caked in mud just like everyone else. He hauled the wet carpet and underlay that A and I had been wrestling with, onto his dolly and out to the curb. I think he stayed for about six hours, working long after I left.
Was John the most amazing act of kindness that I encountered? Well, there was also the catering truck that suddenly dropped off bagged lunches for everyone, no charge. The Young Guy that just appeared, and helped dismantle the HVAC system which was still full of river water and somehow had to be taken apart, up the stairs and onto the curb. The City Workers working non-stop, loading the dirty, wet, muddy debris completely covering the front and back lawns, for all homes within a two-mile radius, into their waste trucks. All the people, including small children, who handed out bottles of water, and offered up sandwiches, cookies, apples and even grilled hot dogs (nice touch!). Plumber Man who stopped in and helped with a few plumber-y things, then left, again no charge. The nice lady up the hill in the house with no flood damage who uttered the most startlingly beautiful words in the universe to some very grateful, muddy workers leaving a devastated area with no running water: “would you girls like to use my washroom?”
Or was it “the team?” Maybe we started out as “co-workers” trying to be helpful, but now I think we’re truly a team. And we’re a wonderful team. We came out in spades, reinforced with spouses, friends, and even ‘just’ acquaintances, to our two colleagues’ homes that had been devastated by the flood, to get the job done, in the shortest amount of time. Have you ever sent out a group text to a handful of people that said “D needs help. Anyone able?” Apparently, when you do, you get back a bunch of “on my ways” within five minutes. And then you’ll get a bunch more from people you hadn’t texted in the first place. The message gets passed on, and on and on. And answered by “the team.”
So, what was the most amazing act of kindness that I witnessed? Everything. Community Spirit. Teamwork. Humanity. Caring. Compassion. Whatever you want to call it, people came out, and we helped one another.
And what did I learn? The two most welcome words, words I’ve promised myself to say way more often, with no strings attached, are: “Need help?” John taught me that.