Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Hope of Home

Home, Sweet Home. After a full and hard weekend, it’s so nice to be here. But now I know this is a matter of one’s circumstances. And those of yesterday shape today’s.

Nine of us stood on the doorstep, clad in a sort of recovery armor: baseball caps, goggles, gloves, mud boots, and fiber masks. In our hands, the weapons of healing: utility knives, wrecking bars, hammers, floor scrapers and shovels; we were ready for action. We were part of a reclamation team assigned to a house in the river district of Cedar Rapids and our sole purpose was to tear out the guts of what was once someone’s home.

The river overflowed its banks in June and the residents of 15,000 homes were forced to evacuate, leaving behind their lives. As soon as the floodwaters receded, the houses were sealed up until they could be assessed for livability. The residents were left to cast about in search of some other place to dwell while the status of their house was suspended in bureaucratic limbo. Finally the rebuild permit was issued, which is where we came in.

We learned about the owner a day after we had started. Judy is 65 and still disoriented from the disaster. Her husband died of cancer in November. She was diagnosed with cancer in February and is undergoing chemo. Because of the medical costs, she stopped paying her home insurance. Her son was divorced in March and moved in with her. Her world was a dizzying cloud of hard circumstances. Then the flood came. She scrambled to get pictures and keepsakes from life with a husband who loved her off the walls and up to the second floor. Then she drove away, the floodwaters rushing down the street as she looked out the back window. Her father had built the house and had given it to her, and now it was about to be swallowed by the Cedar River.

When the door opened, the house wheezed out the sickly breath of mold. This was no longer a home; it was a dank incubator, a terrarium for e.coli and every kind of fungus that finds delight in dark, warm, moist spaces. Literally, everything was food for the mold. THIS was as diseased an environment as I’ve ever been in. I was grateful for my mask and my gloves.

We moved from room to suffocated room opening every available window, setting up fans, pulling fresh air into the stagnant space. Air and light – the first time in three months.

Because the water had completely filled the first floor to the ceiling, it all had to be ripped out, layer by layer: carpet, flooring, trim, plaster, cabinets, fixtures, appliances, walls. Everything but the studs. All that had been part of the comfortable interior of Judy’s world, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, parlor, all of it now was destined for a discard pile on the sidewalk. House vomit.

But now, with the flood of air and light, there was hope. Hope that once again, Judy might be able to live in the house her father built. The hope of a sweet home again.

Today’s Influences and Soundtrack:
Augustine of Hippo, On Teaching
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Conni Ellisor, Blackberry Winter
Michael Hedges, Aerial Boundaries