It would be an understatement if I said 2016 has been a wild year. Between the terrorist attacks, mass shootings, natural disasters, Brexit, and the US Presidential Campaign, it's hard to see the positive and good in the world. And while this year seems to make all of us feel helpless, I reflect on this quote from Mister Rogers:
And there really are helpers. Their stories might not be shared on Facebook. They might even go unseen. But they are there.
In May, my friend and her family of 5, packed up all their belongs and moved their family to Bolivia to help with a 1-3 year heath care initiative. They were only taking a few suitcases with them and putting everything they ever owned into a storage unit in Chicago. Since they had no family here, they asked me and another friend to be the emergency contact for the unit.
Last week, I got a call saying that the storage facility had suffered a fire. They needed me to come and make sure everything was ok and remove anything that had suffered any kind of damage. Thinking this was just a formality, my friend Becky and I went to check it out. As we walked through the facility to their unit, the smell of ash and mold grew stronger. Their unit was directly across the hall from the unit that caught on fire. The facility employee told us that the three units across the hall from our friend's were complete losses. Our friend was extremely lucky her unit did not catch on fire.
As we opened the door to her unit, some burnt material fell from the door. There was a huge bucket full of silvery ash water right at the entrance. My friend and I looked at each other and agreed we would have to come back over the weekend. As we looked at our friend's whole life sitting in puddles of stagnant water, covered in ash, we began to feel overwhelmed and sadden for our friend. She was on a completely different continent and could do nothing about the situation.
While spending a Saturday digging through the remains of our good friend's life wasn't ideal, we knew she would do the same for us. We devised a plan. We collected cleaning products and put out an announcement to our friend for any help. Since our friend was an active member in the LDS church in Chicago, we put out an invitation to her congregation to help.
At 8:00am on Saturday, Becky and her husband Noah picked me up. We packed the car full with cleaning products and picked up another friend who volunteered to help. As we started unpacking the unit more and more friends showed up. At one point 4 Mormon missionaries walked in to help. Collectively we had 6 people from church and 4 missionaries in addition to myself, Becky, and Noah.
My ash covered hands were able to photograph damage and fill out a claim sheet while everyone moved huge furniture, unpacked boxes, wiped down things that could be cleaned, and repack everything in new boxes.
Once we removed everything from the unit, there was still water on the floor and the ceiling was leaking from the rain. We didn't want to put all the clean stuff back into a place where it could be damaged again. Thanks to all the help we had, I was able to take the time to talk to the office about getting our friends a clean unit for their remaining belongings. At one point I was even able to take a car full of smoked damaged laundry to the laundromat.
I felt so many emotions yesterday. But out of all the emotions, love and kindness were able to trump the sadness, stress, and exhaustion.
My family and friends have had conversations with me about the state of the world. What can we do to solve all the problems? There are so many people to help. How can we help them all? The answer isn't ideal but it is true. You can't. You can't solve all the problems. You can't help everyone. But you can help those around you. You can do the small things, the big things, and everything in between. As Ghandi said, you can be the change be the change you wish to see in the world. Even if it's just one storage unit at a time.