Friday, September 29, 2017

Hammer and a Nail: Cinco Strong!

The students come back on Monday. We went back last Wednesday, and had our official "Where do we go from here" meeting on Thursday. As many as 1/6 of our students may have been affected seriously by Harvey, two of our elementaries and one of our feeder junior highs were wrecked by the Barker reservoir flooding. The counselor talked to us about what to expect and how to proceed with our students, and even a nice bit about the difference between sympathy and empathy (a distinction I never really thought about until now).

Well, the sun rose again and we are rebuilding. I spent hours updating my calendar for my class. I am an AP semester class teacher so losing two weeks is like losing a month. Actually it turned out to be good because I have been looking to streamline and fine tune my course a bit and this gave me the perfect opportunity to do so. "Do I really need to do this particular lesson? A: Nope Goodbye! :-)

Friday our district did a great thing. Instead of just staying at the school and doing almost nothing, we were given the chance to get out and help with the cleanup and render service to anyone in need. One of our history teachers stepped up and organized crews of people to visit homes of our staff members or parents that were in need of clean up, clean out or even tear out at this point.

People donated tools and boots, cleaning supplies and bleach, buckets and shovels, and not everyone worked on the cleanup. Those who could not do the physical stuff made sure to pack and deliver coolers of snacks and water and they brought lunches to the haggard crews. Others offered babysitting services so parents could be free to clean. Based on such things as "who has a big pickup truck (not hard to find here in Texas ;-) ) and what tools did you bring, we were organized into crews.

And one of the nice things is that the crews were divided and mixed among our departments. In a mega school like ours, you can become "compartmentalized" You end up only seeing or associating with your department and hardly see anyone else, except to say hi in the main workroom or crack a joke in the hall in passing about "How soon is it till Christmas break?" Yesterday I set off with one of my good friends from social studies, one of our support teachers, a couple of science teachers (one of whom brought her fiancĂ© and her Mother) and a few of our engineering teachers from career education. Nothing makes new friends like working together.

Our morning job was for one of our staff members, and it was depressing driving through the neighborhood, seeing people's formerly prized possessions, furniture, family heirlooms, not to mention the flooring, sheet rock and carpets just piled up at the curb in blobs of mixed media as high as one story. We helped move our coworker’s stuff out to the "ten foot line" where FEMA will pick it up, and then we finished cleaning up the tear out on her home. We swept and cleaned and sprayed bleach at every place we could where there had been water and mold could be growing.

At one point on moving detail, I had a snow shovel in my hand to move water-logged books that had once been a library! I hated doing this as I love books, it broke my heart to see all those tomes of fiction and nonfiction, ruined beyond all repair. Made me think about what I have been holding on to and why as well.

During the tear out, a pickup truck of teachers from Seven Lakes, another Katy ISD school, drove up with water and snacks for us. Later another crew from our school drove up with a cooler with packed lunches, sandwiches, fresh fruit, power bars and chips and of course more water.

Around 1PM we headed over to our second job. The streets were jammed with cars, it was getting hot and the view was more of the depressing same as every house had a mountain of refuse piled in front. But you know what, we also saw people working together, a bunch of guys had set up a barbecue grill in the parking lot of one of our closed schools and were cooking up delicious meats for everyone. Folks were all working together, neighbors and families, people giving and borrowing whatever supplies, tools, water and food they could. Nothing could define community like what I saw yesterday as we inched our way to our second job.

At the second location, we joined Christie, the history teacher who organized this whole thing, and her crew. There was still a lot of tear out to be done, and much as I hated the idea of it, there was a small part of me that relished this work. I knew we were rebuilding, but still there was that inner, helpless human rage at this situation and how this natural disaster proved that nature is so much mightier than any human endeavor. I was able to take out my feelings of helplessness on sheet rock and flooring. I was Job crying out to the whirlwind as my id  bubbled to the surface to let off steam as I swung my hammer again and again, sweating, covering myself in white chalky dust. Years ago my Dad, among other tools he gave me, handed me a mini-sledge hammer that I have never used.....until yesterday. It's a heavy for such a little hammer, and I felt like Thor swinging Mjolnir yesterday. It was very therapeutic.

We eventually finished and we learned a little about the person whose house we were cleaning out it turns out she was a single mother, an immigrant, who had one son, and he was at our affected junior high. With tears in her eyes, she thanked us repeatedly and also told us that she was not aware we were teachers until almost the end of the day. Somehow my body hurt a little less at that point. I saw tears welling in the eyes of my colleagues in our crews, friends, acquaintances, and some who I may almost never see or talk to again, although I would like that not to be the case. For some reason I think we will see more of that "out of department" socializing and communication. I may even suggest some to my principal.

So now going to begin going through all the "stuff" in my life and starting to sort out what's really important. Ask why I am saving this or keeping that? Going to streamline the stuff, see what can be used by charity or a community library or senior center. We're only here for a short time and all we have in the end is each other. I will always cherish yesterday's memories of working side by side with friends and strangers...sitting on a patio slab having lunch out of bag with these people....the heartfelt thanks of the Mother whose house we worked on.....the people in the neighborhood all coming together.....Yeah that's what's important.

Funny I couldn't help but think of an Indigo Girls song yesterday, and it kept running through my head, over and over again: From "Hammer and a Nail"

Clearing webs from the hovel
a blistered hand on the handle of a shovel
I've been digging too deep, I always do.
I see my face on the surface
I look a lot like narcissus
A dark abyss of an emptiness
Standing on the edge of a drowning blue.
I look behind my ears for the green
Even my sweat smells clean
Glare off the white hurts my eyes
I gotta get out of bed and get a hammer and a nail.
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head.

Bob Diethrich,  Economics Teacher


  1. Bob, you are always so good with words, and your perspective of the clean up efforts "hit the nail on the head." Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Thank you for sharing. You brought tears to my eyes.