“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
Last night, as I was leaving my office, I heard the fire alarm go off. In my three years at St. Stephen’s, our overzealous fire alarm has gone off a minimum of 16 times while I’m on the premises. Our fire alarm goes off frequently and with great gusto. The firefighters of Harrisburg come to St. Stephen’s with the expectation that they will not be fighting an actual fire, but rather a very loud alarm system. Last night was no exception. There was a leak in the roof that had nestled into one of the fire detectors, which set it off repeatedly. I was so desperate to get out of that building that I actually considered just leaving. Would anyone really know I was there to hear the alarm? In all honesty, I got to the car, sat in the driver seat, banged the steering wheel and came back inside to call the chair of the property committee, Jim. Then, the wonderful custodian, Marsha and I wrestled with the reset panel for about 45 minutes as we waited for Jim to arrive. The noise was awful. In fact, as I type this, I can still hear the faint beep, beep coming from downstairs. Or at least, I think I do. It may be the ringing in my left ear that hasn’t stopped since last night. When Jim arrived, I sheepishly slipped out the door to catch the primary election returns.
On nights like last night, I slip into a self-righteous pity party pretty quickly. Here are some actual thoughts I had last night: “None of my other friends have to deal with stuff like this at their jobs.” “I don’t get paid enough to deal with fire alarms after a 10 hour day.” “I’m taking tomorrow off.” “There’d better be a fire.” “I did not leave Alabama for THIS.” “If I don’t get some food immediately, I’m going to punch someone in the face.” “Am I the only one who does any work around here?”
If you haven’t picked up on the irony of this situation, let me help you out. Jim is a volunteer. He doesn’t get paid to be the chair of the property committee. He’s a retired engineer who had every reason in the world to ignore my phone call last night. But, he didn’t. He stood up from dinner at home with his wife, and got in the car. Marsha–dear, wonderful, cheery Marsha– was there to take out the trash and clean the bathrooms. She wasn’t there to deal with a fire alarm… or a leak in the roof for that matter. But, she did. Marsha has cleaning contracts all over the city and Wednesdays are a particularly long day for her. But, she stopped what she was doing to help deal with the incessant beeping.
But wait, there’s more. There’s a reason I don’t know how to work the reset panel. In the 16+ times the fire alarm has gone off, I’ve never been alone at St. Stephen’s. Before Marsha, there was Regi. Regi was (and is) the ultimate go-to guy for everything around here. Any time that alarm went off, Regi was there to deal with it. Regi worked faithfully at St. Stephen’s for four years, going above and beyond what he was asked to do. About a year and a half ago, Regi was diagnosed with Leukemia. After six months of chemo and a short period of remission, Regi’s cancer came back. He’s receiving aggressive chemotherapy and is no longer able to work (though he’s certainly tried!). Marsha took over his work for him. She and other parishioners visit Regi regularly to make sure he has what he needs.
My job is to direct the Sycamore House program. But Jim, Marsha, Regi and countless others are the helpers that make our community work. The best glimpses of community happen when I’m not looking. When I get to work on Wednesdays, the Wednesday morning church crowd has already taken the Corps Members out to breakfast. Before he got sick, Regi prepared a gourmet lobster dinner for the house after I left for the day. He’s also made Community Dinner quite a few times .
Last week, Jim came to the rescue when the Sycamore House alarm went off while they were away and I was at a soccer game. Before that, he and another parishioner, Steve, helped them get a couch to the the second floor of the house while I was working away in my office. Before this year’s house moved in, while I was on vacation, two parishioners and two board members cleaned and painted all the bedrooms. I try to remember these moments of community at it’s best when I’m having a difficult day. But, the truth is, I usually just have to look up from whatever it is that I’m doing to catch a fresh glimpse of these helpers at work.
Every year, our Sycamores are a part of that work of helping our community along. I feel confident that they have the best teachers out there!