The scaffolding finally came off my house today after six months of construction. Looking at the gleaming new windows and freshly painted Hardyboard, I stopped a minute to contemplate the last five years of my life.
My father died eight months after my ninth birthday. I remember well standing small and weak before the death that hung on his limp body. My life changed irrevocably that moment beside the crisp white sheets of the hospital bed.
The day of my father’s memorial, the city hall was crammed with many more people than its license permitted. The entire community attended to offer their condolences and support. I am surprised that anyone dared enter the washed out world of my family’s despair after that ceremonial day of mourning. They came, though, and they continued to come: friends, family, and neighbours we never knew we had. My soccer team left pudding cups, Jell-O, and yogurt tubes on our doorstep. Others arrived with teddy bears, bouillabaisse, and chocolates. Everybody brought flowers and, most importantly, the message you are not alone.
I fixed my first toilet that winter under the tutelage of the local handyman. Then came my lessons in bike repair with the teenager from across the street. Over the next few years, I learned to install antivirus software on my computer, to carve a miniature kayak from cedar wood, to play the recorder and to make gingerbread houses from scratch. All of this is thanks to my community, which stepped in where my mother could not.
Last spring, my family discovered that our entire house was rotten. With no other choice, we began to search through the phone book and by word of mouth for reputable construction companies. A friend of a friend with a daughter at my little sister’s elementary school – one whose own parent died when he was a child – heard of my family and stepped forward. Though his company doesn’t usually work on residential buildings, he offered to take the job at a discount.
Today, sitting on my driveway, I know how many hands have gone into building my home; not just the new siding and windows, but also the functioning toilets, the well-researched science fair projects and the newfound smiles on my family’s faces.
As my neighbour takes his dog on the afternoon rounds, I smile and wave because I believe the in power of community.