Getting in touch with the power that drives the Universe...
Some years ago my church had a team of guys who would move people free of charge. One of us had a heavy duty truck and large double axle trailer that could be used to move a lot of household effects quickly. It was a valuable service reserved for people, typically single ladies or elderly, who needed a free helping hand. It was a good service project and fellowship experience for all the guys.
One week a youngish man came into our church office looking for moving help. Apparently he had been to several other churches in town without successfully finding assistance. Upon inquiring about details of the move, it became apparent that this would not be an ordinary job. The man had a restraining order by a court that forbade him from returning to his apartment. Neighbors had noticed a foul urine smell coming from next door and had had the manager investigate, only to find 121 cats "living" in the small one bedroom home. Needless to say, he was the subject of a lot of ridicule and investigation. His story made the local evening news in San Diego as the latest case of a person who feared surrendering cats to the local animal shelter. It seems that he had long ago moved out of the apartment because it became unlivable and only visited daily to replenish food and water for the out-of-control cat population.
When we got the call to move his belongings, we were a bit apprehensive but nonetheless willing to do what needed to be done. I remember getting ready that Saturday morning picking out gloves and a cheap paper mask that guarded against breathing particulate matter. I had paused momentarily to consider taking a high-grade painter's filter mask but decided that would be overkill. Besides, how bad could it be? After all, I have a nose that doesn't work all that well anyway.
So upon arriving, we talked briefly to the manager and he took us down to the apartment door. Upon unlocking and opening it, I realized I had made a big mistake. The urine smell washed over us as we stood 4 feet from the door. As we slowly entered the apartment my senses struggled to process all the information that was invading my body. What we encountered I subsequently termed "the ante room to Hell." The cats had been removed days before, but the residue of their months-long encampment was everywhere. Hair enough to make thousands of fur balls. Wet carpets. Particle board furniture literally melting due to the contact with the wet carpets. A large sack of excrement neatly packaged in the broom cabinet.
And then there was the bed. It seems that this double bed had been used as the birthing place for all but the oldest 3 cats. The bedspread was an indescribable black hole of filth. Clothes hanging in the closet were neatly pressed; some suits were still protected in their garment bags. There were computers and keyboards fuzzy with the hair of all the cats. Although there was some canned or boxed food in the kitchen and in the refrigerator, none of it would have been salvageable (for psychological if not health reasons). Not considering the overwhelming contamination, one could see that this had at one time been a nicely furnished and well kept home. But now it was just putrid in the extreme. One had to focus on controlling the gag reflex, and some of the crew couldn't work long inside.
We hauled every last possession out of the apartment, including pulling up the soaked carpeting. When we arrived at the solid waste transfer station workers there paused to watch us throw out appliances, furniture, computers, car jacks, clothing, dishes, cookware, pictures, electronics and everything a normal household would have. They no doubt wondered what would possess us to throw away such seemingly useful merchandise. I tried to save a few items for donation that were unaffected by the contamination, but a friend insisted we have no part of it. So the man's possessions were scraped into a haul truck for deposit at the dump.
Since there was no need to return to the apartment, we bid our farewells to one another and congratulated ourselves on a distasteful job done well. As I was dropped off at my car, I had an uneasy feeling. It seemed that there was not going to be any closure to this story. We weren't going to receive a thank you from the accused man; he had enough trouble of his own without worrying about us. But then my mind switched to the apartment manager. They had felt relief that finally the nightmare of this man's carelessness was just about over. I decided that I needed to talk to them about what had happened. So as a representative of nobody but myself, I went to the manager's apartment and apologized to them for what had happened.
Sure, it wasn't my fault. And I had been a part of the solution to the problem. But no one was going to apologize to them. They were going to have to deal with their own bitterness toward the man. It was a fairly awkward moment as none of the 3 of us had ever had to go through such a scenario. But they were very appreciative to know that someone cared about their pain. You could visibly see the release of stress and anger as they graciously received my proxy apology.
Sometimes we just need to go through the "furnace" of life events with people. I hope that somebody can do that for me when I have an insurmountable challenge.