My mother died in March of ‘96. She left me the house that I’d grown up in so I moved back home. That December, the night of my birthday, the house caught fire. The firefighters kept it from burning to the ground but did some damage in the process. To be honest, I didn’t care that they ripped a good sized hole in the ceiling of the living room to make sure that the fire hadn’t been burning in the attic – or hacked another hole in the kitchen floor for whatever reason. But when I saw the broken music box, a small wooden schoolhouse that my mother gave me, I cried like a baby. I remember putting it and the broken pieces on a table in the living room.
After following all of the insurance required steps a construction company was selected to fix the house. Because of the damage I’d had to move out and was living in an apartment about ten minutes from home. I’d stop in after work, pretending to check on the progress of the repairs but really I just wanted to be home. I felt so lost and unmoored. I missed home. I missed mattering to someone. I missed my mother.
One afternoon I stopped by, cloaked in grief and a constant feeling of being disconnected from the world around me. The fresh smell of sawdust was in the air and the rhythm of saws and hammers. When the crew of three noticed me the sawing and the hammering stopped. We exchanged waves and they went back to work – they had become accustomed to my visits. I wandered around the place that I’d grown up.
I roamed into the living room. I saw the music box sitting on the table but didn’t see the tiny pile of broken pieces that had been there. I moved closer. There were no broken pieces because the little schoolhouse had been put back together. The construction crew fixed the thing that mattered to me the most.
A random act of kindness? For sure. But so much more. A gift that grounded me by making me feel like I mattered. All these years later and the memory of how I felt when I found that repaired music box, which sits on the piano in my living room now, still makes me grin while my eyes fill with tears. All these years later and I’m still so grateful for that random act.