Last Friday our son called around 6:00 a.m.
He was wondering if he could borrow both chains saws and the skid steer loader with a grapple.
I thought that was kind of an odd request, but as it turned out, a bad storm had ripped through his town. Many of the streets were blocked. One neighbor had a tree on his house and another’s pickup had been turned into a flatbed in the blink of an eye by the trunk of a 120-year-old ash tree. Luckily, our son’s house was largely untouched; only a few small branches lay on the ground in the back yard. Because the power was out, he couldn’t go to work. So he looked around, wove his pickup around dozens of fallen trees, and drove an hour to our place to pick up some gear.
Around 8:00 a.m. he was unloading the equipment and quickly found that he had become a very popular fellow.
The town was an absolute mess. Trees were down everywhere - many of them on top of houses and businesses. Life was completely disrupted, and even the folks who had the right kind of insurance were looking at big deductibles and months of waiting for busy carpenters. Those with flooded basements were stacked up in a line three digits long, waiting for the right equipment to restore order, and even as the chainsaws roared, more storm clouds gathered on the horizon.
Yet, people were okay. They were blindingly grateful that no one had been hurt or killed, something that seemed amazing when you thought about the amount of debris that had been hurtling through the air. People congregated in the streets, remarkably cheerful and helpful.
Or at least as helpful as they could be. Our son called late that night, exhausted but in a good mood, the good mood you get from total investment in something that matters. He’d been in his element all day. Growing up on a farm, four years in the Marine Corps, and a career as a machinist has made him an expert on, well…doing stuff. While it’s an undervalued talent in these days, there are times when it becomes invaluable. It’s a little like being a member of a tribe - and make no mistake, the members recognize each other. Our son has spent most of his life around heavy equipment and dangerous situations, and even though he had never practiced lifting trees off houses with a Bobcat, he was good at it. The vast majority of the people he was working with had no experience with this particular task either, but they managed to work well together. Still, every now and then during his day’s travels throughout the town, he’d come across someone with a brand new chainsaw and stiff new leather gloves working very hard and accomplishing very little. It was actually kind of dangerous just being around them, because you never knew when they’d do something stupid out of sheer ignorance.
In some ways, the emergency made for an overturning of the current order of the world. We live in times in which a guy in a suit usually makes quite a bit more money than someone with their name on the pocket of their shirt. People who make things and fix things are seen as interchangeable and disposable, while people who move paper and electrons across desks and around the world are seen as valuable. No one ever said the world was fair and you just need to accept the fact that different contributions are valued differently by our society.