Walking carefully through the pile of debris that was once someone’s home, I was overcome with sadness at the utter destruction I was witnessing. From a distance it looked like a huge pile of rubble, one of many that marked the path of an unstoppable monster storm. In some places there were only foundations left, the homes and buildings gone, swept clean by wind and water.
But many homes, like this one, looked like they had been smashed by an angry monster hand, crushing everything inside. I grieved for those who had lived here as I observed furniture reduced to a pile of wood, tangled with soggy blankets. Clothing lay in a puddle of muddy water with shoes and a hat. Walls were gone where rooms once held belongings that were now twisted into mangled heaps. I realized there was little chance of finding anything worth salvaging for this family. I hoped and prayed they had evacuated and were safe and warm with a friend or relative, or in a shelter.
Church ministries, charities, and disaster relief workers mobilize quickly to help people as they’re reeling from the loss and devastation of a storm. Immediate needs of food, shelter, and clean water are a priority. Also, many people can’t search their own property to look for or move salvageable items, or seal off what’s left from damage and theft. I can only imagine being one of the first responders who go house to house looking for survivors, or even worse, searching for bodies in the debris. I wondered if any Fire Department, Law Enforcement, EMT, or other recovery training fully prepares them for what they encounter. I shuddered at that thought as I made my way around chunks of twisted metal that used to be a washer and dryer, then on past a huge pile of broken furniture coated with dust and bits of drywall.
After encountering so many large piles of debris, it was odd to see a stretch of carpeted floor with only a few odds and ends strewn around. Remnants of drapes or curtains and their rods. A broken lamp. A grandfather clock on its side. Following the trail of broken items hoping to find something, anything, that was in one piece, I went through what was left of a doorway. I was in the kitchen area, with part of an upstairs bedroom falling through the ceiling. A refrigerator lay on its front, the stove crushed into its back, and broken cabinets scattered around them. It looked like the dresser drawers, kitchen drawers and cabinets had all been dumped out and mixed together, then topped with a ceiling fan. There were a few salvageable items that weren’t buried; some pans, utensils, and an iron skillet. It was great to finally find something to put in the empty box I had brought, but it was a pitifully small amount compared to all that was shattered and ruined.
Encouraged by finding a few things that weren’t destroyed, I climbed over a section of stairs to check the last part of the house while I still had daylight. The stairs had broken into sections and formed a half wall that blocked the opposite side from view, making it impossible to know what was behind it. On the other side the floor was covered with dozens of ruined books scattered around amidst the remains of broken bookcases, and a rain-soaked recliner. The books were wet and torn, some already warped from the puddles of dirty water surrounding them. As a book lover myself, it was disheartening to know that this book collection hadn’t stood a chance once the water came rushing in. Realizing the possibility of finding anything else worth saving had just dropped to zero, I turned to leave and join the rest of the crew.
Carefully stepping among the books and debris to avoid puddles, while trying not to step on anything, I started to lose my balance. I reached out to catch myself by grabbing hold of the edge of a fallen bookshelf. When I regained my balance and looked up, I saw a black book wedged into the space where one bookshelf had fallen across another. I reached up and worked it loose. It was a Bible. I was thrilled to see that it was dry and undamaged, except for a small crease in the cover where it was caught between the bookshelves. As I leaned down to put the Bible in my box a picture slid partially out. It was a photo of a man holding the hand of a young boy on one side, and the hand of a small girl on the other side. They were all dressed up and wore serious expressions. It looked as if the little girl was about to cry.
On my way out I was so lost in thought about the Bible and picture that I almost ran into an elderly man. He was slowly making his way toward the house, followed by a middle-aged woman. She was telling him he should wait, it wasn’t safe to go in. He was telling her he’d waited long enough. He saw me, then saw the box in my arms. Not wanting to be mistaken for a looter, I quickly showed him my identification and assured him I was a disaster relief worker. His hand trembled as he reached into the box, took the Bible, and slid the picture out.
With tears in his eyes, he studied the picture and said, “I didn’t think I’d see this again.“
“My wife died giving birth to our daughter. I was raising her and our son just fine with some help from friends and neighbors. But back then the state didn’t think a father should raise children alone, especially a little girl. They took this picture right before taking my children away. I haven’t seen them since.”
Gently placing the picture back inside, he held his Bible close and said, “Everything else is just stuff.”
What story comes to mind when you look at this picture?
Your thoughts and comments are welcome.
The photo and challenge are from Michelle W. of the WordPress Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge: A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words – “This week’s challenge couldn’t be simpler: tell a story based on this picture.”
Read other entries, or find out about writing your own story here