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The wounded who help others find healing

I just had a real sobering moment. For the past year, I have been trying to restore an old, very run-down home in Indianapolis. It has been one snag after another. I’ve made no secret of the problems we’ve had. And then, this morning, with my ‘To do’ list in hand, I saw myself for real.
The actual awakening started last week as I visited the tornado-ravaged areas in Warrick and Vanderburgh counties. The WFYI television crew and I were there to record some life stories for my television series, ‘Communities Building Community.’
This wasn’t my first visit to a storm disaster area. For the past 17 years at least, whenever the weather got bad, Frank and I felt we needed to be there. Always we came away in dismay at the power of nature but more in awe of the people who lived through its fury. Our visit to Newburgh and the Eastbrook Mobile Home Park last week reinforced my belief in the wonder of people.
Volunteers, professionals and victims alike, almost everyone we visited, expressed gratitude for the actions of others. Yes, that old Thanksgiving message of gratitude. As they stood amidst the material discards of life, they told of heroic efforts.
Many times, over the days preceding our visit, I had heard statements from visiting emergency response personnel that here in Southern Indiana the system was working like it should. The rescue and cleanup of lives was going much better than in most other places. So I went with the question for my TV show, ‘Why? What was happening here that was different from storm damaged communities in other states?’ The answer was no surprise. It was the people. People who responded to cries for help and the attitude of those who received it.
Let me share one story. Ron Owen is retired and volunteers for the Red Cross. He is from Indiana. He went to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina and worked the three-week hitch they allow. But Ron still wanted to help, so he was assigned to Louisiana. Soon he got a call from the Red Cross that he hadn’t expected.
Ron’s daughter was in an automobile accident, and he needed to return home.
Ron told me about this but said he was filled with thankfulness for the help the Red Cross gave him. After the funeral and a couple of days of sorrow, he knew his healing would only come by giving back and helping others.
Ron returned to Louisiana to resume the work of cleaning up after the storms. He is so gratified for the chance to help others at a time of personal loss.
We met Ron Owen in Vanderburgh County, at the ravaged trailer park. Now he literally races around the trailer park encouraging other volunteers, transporting people and things to where they need to go. As he pushes himself, he is fully aware that others are providing healing to him. He is a remarkable man and an extreme example, but not an isolated case.
We spoke with a cancer survivor who voiced the same thankfulness for an opportunity to help and the strength it gave him. Homeowners of damaged or destroyed property told us of the heroics of others who helped them. Emergency response professionals recited tales of machine operators, cooks and mental health workers who poured their souls into others’ lives, even as they suffered from shock and fatigue themselves. The stories of heroes in our midst are awesome.
At Thanksgiving, we often conjure images of pilgrims living through hardship and pausing to give thanks. In 2005, we need not look far to see live models of the message of Thanksgiving: Folks who are realistic about conditions of giving and receiving from others; folks spiritually and emotionally inspired by the love of others.
I’ve said so often, ‘We all have gifts, and we all have needs, and when we bring those gifts and needs together, we feed each other. We literally feed each other, and the community is healed.’
What a privilege it is to have a house to care for. My ‘To do’ list today should include more than reminding painters of unfinished wood or carpenters of windows that won’t shut. In my little inconveniences of construction, I must learn from those with true ordeals and realize what is really important.
My ‘To do’ list today ‘ and for the rest of my life ‘ should read loud and clear: ‘Wake up and see the world around. Reach out and be a part of the community. Give and receive all that it has to offer, and in all of it, good and bad, give thanks.’