Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I held a lifetime in my hands today

In my hands today, I held an entire lifetime of memories.

Then I threw it away.

Pieces of a life built over decades and decades.

In my hands today, I held mementos of vacations, trinkets from a career long over, first editions of books printed nearly 100 years ago.

Trade journals and huge volumes and certificates that had once been proudly displayed. Gone.

In my hands today, I held film reels and photographs and journals filled with handwritten pages.

The delicate letters that I traced with a gloved finger, refusing to read it out of respect, and yet taking it all in.

Most of it, unceremoniously, added to a giant and growing pile on the street to be picked up by huge heaving machines.

With every piece thrown in there, my heart broke a little more.

I accompanied my son's Boy Scout Troop to one of the neighborhoods most affected by the floods today. We showed up and just asked who needed help. We quickly realized how much help everyone needed.

If you could have somehow overlooked the piles of debris everywhere, it would have appeared to be a normal neighborhood from the street. The damages were inside. Below the ground. In the basements, where the sewer lines backed up and flooded every single house.

In the home we spent most of our time, the elderly couple who own the property. Sitting in a chair in the corner, his head in his hands, the man. Milling about from time to time, trying to put on a tough face, his wife.

She stood, watching total strangers try to save what we could from a basement that contained a lifetime of things and five feet of contaminated water.

I tried the best I could to organize what could be washed and saved.

I cringed with every book that was pulled out.

I carried muddied frames and albums holding photographs of an even older generation and fought back the tears in my eyes.

When I handed a dripping, brown pile of frames to their daughter, I just said that I was sorry. I suggested ways to save the pictures with rinsing in clean water then laying them out flat. There were so many, she may have to hang them. I don't know if it will work, but I know how much she wanted to try.

I know that I would.

Some of the things lifted out of basement window wells today were just that - things.

Most of them weren't.

Most of them were pieces of a lifetime that we couldn't save.

I don't know their names. I didn't want to intrude more than it already felt like we were. I held tiny bits of their entire lives in my hands, a complete stranger.

Dignity is incredibly important when you lose so much else.

I tried my best to respect that.

I didn't pay attention to the address. It doesn't matter. I don't know who they were or if I will ever see them again.

I want to believe that we helped today.

I know that what we did will never be enough.

I know that some things just can't be replaced.

To the couple who owns the house, I am sorry.

I am sorry this happened to you.

I am sorry you lost so much.

I am so, so, so sorry.


  1. So sad, natural disasters like that are always hard. Thank you for helping

  2. I have no words. I chocked back tears. My problems don't really seem like problems anymore. I'm absolutely heartbroken for people I don't even know. You're amazing for helping out when I'm sure you are trying to deal with your own disasters.

  3. My heart is breaking for all of the people that have been affected. Thank you for helping your community and showing your children the importance of reaching out to those in need. <3

  4. So sad. Jim and I are both choked up. I read this to him. Tears!

  5. Thank you for helping when so many of us can only send prayers. You are the people who make natural disasters bearable.

  6. So sad. I can't imagine.....I lost a few things due to not having the money to pay on a storage unit once. The person threw them away, saying they had absolutely no value. I can't imagine losing a whole life time of things.

  7. My heart is breaking for everyone dealing with this and all of the other natural disasters going on. You are so good to have gone to help. I'm sure those people will forever be grateful for the fact that there were people like you who made the effort to help them clean up, even if it involved a lot of pain as you threw out so many memories.

  8. That is so sad. My heart breaks for everyone that was affected. I applaud you, your son & his Boy Scout troop for going out & doing what you could.


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