Monday, September 16, 2013

The Water That Binds

Just before I boarded my flight back home from another successful climb up Kilimanjaro, I got a texted photo from my wife Merry Beth of our son Jace stomping around in what looked like a few inches of standing water in our driveway.

“Been raining for 3 days now. Our grass is loving it and so is Jace. Safe travels honey.” Merry Beth had no idea the impact this deluge of water from the sky would have on our home and our state of Colorado. No one did.

My 14th Kilimanjaro expedition was just a pleasure as I guided up a wonderful group of women, most of which were from New Jersey.  They all performed well and in spite of my mild reservations on spending 2 weeks with a group of “Yankee gals”, they blew me away with their kindness, humor and fortitude. I was honored to stand on top of Africa with all 12 of them after a long hard summit night. I would return home with a smile on my face and sense of satisfaction assisting these good people in achieving a life long goal.

Then the real climb began….

I awoke Thursday morning in Miami where I was scheduled to deliver a keynote speech to a group of financial advisors the next day. My first night in a comfy bed in 2 weeks provided me the kind of early morning where I continuously kept rolling over and finding deep sleep…over and over again. Until my phone rang and I saw that my wife was calling. Wait, it’s 6am there…an unusually early hour for my morning allergic wife.

“Honey, we’ve got 2 feet of water in our downstairs and it’s rising fast.”

“Not sure I heard you right…. Did you say 2ft of standing water inside our house?”

“Yes. And it’s raining hard. And I’m scared.”

Helplessness. That was my initial emotion. Then fear and concern. Then… it was time to problem solve and assure MB that we would figure this out.

Before I could even send out the help signal flare, my phone began blowing up with texts and calls from my friends that were headed over to help MB with the house.  Friends who knew I was thousands of miles away and unable to take care of my family. The cavalry was on its way.

I heard multiple times from dozens of people…
“We’ve got this.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Tell me what you need.”
“I’m on the way over to your house.”

As the morning unfolded I began receiving photos of a dozen of our friends hauling furniture to higher ground, crawling around in the muck to access soggy boxes filled with random keepsakes and artifacts as well as making calls to our extended network to get the mitigation of water underway quickly.

Throughout the day I continued to hear stories of neighbors installing sump pumps in my house to relieve the volume of water even though their own homes were still filling. Tales of friends taking 90 minutes to drive across town to our house in the middle of the night to deliver pumps and hoses… trying to find roads that weren’t washed away.  I received photo after photo of random shit from my hippy days being saved by the salvage team. I found it so poetically beautiful that many of my old “hippy friends” were finding my old hippy flotsam and jetsam saturated in the crawl space. They put their energy and love into ensuring that hundreds of old Grateful Dead ticket stubs and photos from days gone past were given a chance to dry out and perhaps be saved. The true find of the day was perhaps the most beautifully absurd… my friend Avery comes upon a ziplock bag containing a 2 ft ponytail that, perhaps in an effort to never let go of the long haired hippy that I was in my 20s, I still kept in a box, deep in the crawl space. And now…I get to keep it for another 20 years, thanks to Avery.

I returned home the next night to a house in shambles and a wife that had been strong until she saw me and finally let out all of the tension… sobbing on my shoulder.  She had been so strong the past 48 hours…not sleeping, vigilantly monitoring the house and showing our 8-year-old son how to be strong in the face of adversity.  I held her as the tension and stress of 2 days poured onto my neck from her eyes.

The smell of mold and mildew hit me first. Worse than any locker room you’ve ever stepped foot in.
My furniture and belongings piled all over the garage…pools of water surrounding stacks of soggy boxes. My Dad’s antique dresser dripping water from its drawers. All the furniture stacked high with the wood wilting with water. My son’s childrens books, lying soaked on the cement with all the pages stuck together. All of my medical school textbooks soaked from cover to cover.
Then it was time to step inside…
The living room was filled with mattresses, tables, photos, clothes, guitars and gear. Not any available floor space left. The downstairs was a maze of fans, hoses, dehumidifiers, extension cords and soggy carpet. The water heater was ruined as well as the washer/dryer and HVAC unit. The toilet was off its flange in an attempt to allow the water to flow down the sewage hole. The tub was filled with a layer of brown muck.


As most of the country knows now, Boulder County was crushed with biblical rain last week…. “The 500 Year Flood” hit us. Over 200 folks are still missing. Countless homes were lost. Thousands of basements were flooded and property damaged. Colorado got beat up…bad. Clearly it will take years to rebuild our roads and the communities and lives they lead up to.

But I have seen something beautiful through the clouds. Something stronger than the power of a swollen river or a flooded home.

I have seen love and compassion. I have seen consideration and kindness. Well beyond my house and its efforts, the stories of heroism abound throughout the Front Range. Daring helicopter rescues and life threatening rescue missions. Tales of taking folks in who have lost it all.

In the end we will replace the dry wall, carpet, appliances, furniture and gear. These are just “things” that have only material value. We are viewing all of the lost items as a mandated “Spring cleaning” from the universe. Time to get rid of all the shit you don’t need. A solid exercise for us all.
What I can never replace is the community that I witnessed rally in an effort to help out a friend. I am grateful and proud of our local folks. They are rock-star-heroes and I will seek out opportunities to repay the favor every chance I get.

Now we dry out and move on.

Endless gratitude to my wonderful community of friends… Keith Berger, Mike Z, Terry Stonich, Avery Stonich, Jamie Young , Finn Ingalls, Marci Zakreski, Kelly Garrison, Matt McQueen, Mary McQueen, Paul Lugar, Jerry Kress, Raeanne Vincelette, David Fowler, John Hatch, Kelly Salence, next door Dan and the countless others that offered assistance to MB and I over that 48 hour period and beyond.