I walked up the driveway into a double-wide garage swarming with broom-wielding kids. They were happy and boisterous, ranging from 8 to 12 and all equally content to push dirt around the floor. Proud to be doing something grown-up and useful. Most of them wore bright colors, blues and yellows under caked streaks of mud. I looked at the tallest girl and said, jokingly, “Are you the owner of the house?”
She said that she was.
I started to tell her about Team Rubicon, how we’re a veteran-led disaster relief organization and that we want to help if we can. She seemed to enjoy the momentary responsibility of ownership, but quickly added that her parents were at the store buying supplies. I told her that I would make sure to stop by and check on them on my way back to our truck.
But before I could turn to leave, a little boy, perhaps 9, took two steps towards me.
“Did you go to war?” he asked. I cringed a little. The other children stopped what they were doing.
“Yes, I have.” My voice was even and firm.
“You made it back!” He yelled, clapping his hands and jumping. The others joined in immediately, clapping and cheering. The room filled with applause, the sound of small excited hands coming together and echoing off of barren drywall and exposed two-by-fours.
I put my hand over my heart and bowed because I had no idea what else to do. In a devastated neighborhood of Longmont, Colorado, previously unknown to me, I received the welcome that I didn’t know I still needed. It was the welcome that so many of us never got, and the one that some of us can no longer get. It’s only the first day, and I already feel like these citizens have given me more than I could ever give them, even if I were to single-handedly rebuild every basement in this neighborhood.