The following is a reflection from first year Bonner Chris Ahn on his service in Toms River, NJ on the Bonner First Year Trip doing Hurricane Sandy relief.
By: Chris Ahn
I lay sandwiched in the two foot space between cold concrete ground and the base of a two-story house. Dust floated everywhere, browning my breathing mask and staining my white Tyvek coverall. Squinting through fogged-up goggles, I marked a good spot on the plastic edge of the half-hanging insulation. The staple gun, readied in my hand, clung to the wooden frame, and inhaling steadily, I clenched, staking the plastic to wood.
This was the crawl space of a disaster-stricken house in New Jersey, where for several few hours I had been stapling plastic-wrapped insulation underneath the flooring. Although it was uncomfortable work, slowly but surely, I and eight other Bonners were restoring the house to the condition it was in before Hurricane Sandy hit, whether it was through insulation work or drywall mudding. Inside the house, volunteers before us had already stripped it to a bare shell, removing almost all household appliances and items in the process. In fact, there remained only a few remnants of domestic life, one of which stood out to me; adorning the doorframe of the front entrance were decorations of the mystical and sacred Hindu syllable, Om, as well as images of deities. In a way, it was poetic seeing the Om suspended above the doorway of an evacuated home. In Hinduism, the symbol is a reflection of the Absolute Reality, encompassing all that exists without beginning or end. Perhaps by leaving this ornament behind, the family expressed an enduring hope of restoration and continuity, an optimism of finding peace amidst ruin and calamity.
We never got to meet the owners of the house as we did at other volunteer sites that week, but I felt connected to them nevertheless. Even though truthfully, stapling dozens of rolls of insulation in a tight crawl space sometimes felt like an insignificant, mundane task, I was motivated by knowing that I was helping disaster-stricken members of a community regain some sense of sanity in their lives. Over the course of that day, my peers and I began to realize that we were reconstructing a haven of normalcy that most of us simply take for granted. In addition, we learned that we don’t need to meet our neighbors face to face to communicate love; we served this family through labor, and in return they taught us not only to count our blessings, but the value of sharing it with others, even if it meant stepping out of our comfort zones and getting a little dirty in a crawl space.