Monday, January 28, 2008

Day Twenty-One: January 2008

Day Twenty-One: Monday, January 28

The morning came too early, especially because it was the morning of our last workday in New Orleans. We are still ready and willing to work, but we are not ready for this experience to end. Also, we knew that our workload for the day was daunting. Like every day, we charged on.

We all hurried to Rosie’s house and hopped on the long list of jobs we had identified as our final push priorities. We occupied ourselves by painting the porch and front doors, touching up interior paint, scrubbing remaining glue globs from the newly-installed floor, caulking the baseboards, completing the brick walkway behind the two houses, finishing the birdbath, scrubbing the vinyl siding on the front of the house, and sweeping, sweeping, sweeping, and sweeping some more. One by one, the jobs got checked off the list.

We got distracted over and over again by visitors who wanted to say goodbye. Two Habitat staffers came over and brought us to tears as they thanked us and told us they’d miss us. Neighbors from all around Rosie’s house came by to talk, to thank us, and even to pray for us. And other neighbors that we don’t already know came by and asked us for help.

When evening began to fall, we knew that it was time to load the bus in front of Rosie’s for the last time. We had just pulled the tape from our paint job, so one by one we crossed the street to look back at our most recent work. As we stood there and took it all in, we fell quiet.

Veterans of multiple trips found themselves reviewing all of the many stages of Rosie’s houses that we have experienced together. They remembered the initial swirl of belongings in those houses back on that first Saturday in January 2006; they remembered the shovels and wheelbarrows and the huge piles of debris that we accumulated there. They remembered the big awful freezer that we wrestled off the porch with a triumphant thud. They remembered the smells of those waterlogged houses, especially the refrigerators and the sickening substance inside them that we lovingly called “fridge tea.” They remembered the huge claw that came along and scooped up everything we had removed from those houses. They remembered the tears that we shed on those front porches and the many lunches that we shared there as well. And they remembered the slow but sure reawakening of each house, one by one.

Newcomers (who are all solid veterans now) reflected on all that has happened for them – and for these houses -- in the last three-plus weeks. We all thought back to the houses we initially entered: framed-out skeletons standing inside a shell of vinyl siding. And we remembered the struggles of learning to insulate, learning to sheetrock, learning to install flooring, learning to paint properly, and learning the basics of the logic of construction. The more we looked back at those newly painted doors and porch, the more we leaned into each other and hugged each other. Tears started to fall.

We let this time float on for awhile then organized ourselves for a picture or two. We decided to have dinner in the French Quarter tonight then come home all together rather than dispersing throughout the souvenir shops, cafes, and bars. Over dinner we had each person stand up and praise the person to his or her right at the table. We got to say sweet things about each other in front of each other. It wouldn’t have mattered who was next to whom, as everyone has plenty of evidence that every person at that table deserves a lot of praise.

We’re getting up early in the morning (5:00 a.m. for the early shift) to gather up everything in our lovely little village and pack it up to head back to California. Leo will drop us off then start the long drive back to central Indiana. We have more work to do this week to complete our projects, some of which will be presented publicly at 7:00 on Wednesday, January 13th in the Soda Center at Saint Mary’s. Please join us that night if you can.

It wasn’t all about the hours worked for us, but we are still impressed with our own achievements. Today we added another 261 hours to our overall total, taking our collective running total to 5529 hours. Because a few of us are going to make one more pass through Rosie’s in the morning to finish some quick tasks, we’ll add those hours in before we declare our ultimate total. But for now, we say “whew!”