A Little Help Please!

Tuscaloosa, days after the storm.

I grew up in small-town Mississippi in a Baptist church. We helped each other. Period.

When someone had to move, we all showed up and loaded their truck. If they were just moving across town, we all brought our own pickups and loaded them. Why should they spend money on renting a moving van?

If your mama got sick and had to go into the hospital, then you just might as well empty the freezer and get ready for the onslaught of food the sisterhood was cooking up and bringing by. You were about to lay up a 12-month supply of green bean casseroles and coconut cakes.

We helped each other.

I think my church people would have seen it as sinful if we hadn’t. I think almost anyone in Oxford, whether they went to church or not, would have seen it as shameful. Good people didn’t let good people want for something, not if you could help it. You were supposed to give.

We took up collections for families that couldn’t pay a hospital bill. They were your neighbors – even if they lived across town. You watched their house and fed their dogs when they were gone. And you loved the way it made you feel. You were part of something bigger. You knew if you were part of a crowd helping someone in need. That same crowd had your back if the days got dark on you and your family.

I live in Birmingham now, and this city stunned me with the outpouring of help after the deadly April 27 tornados. Twitter came ablaze with people linking up all the #AlNeed’s with the #AlHave’s.

#WeAreAlabama is a new mantra as we call upon ourselves to unite in aid of our neighbors.

Christian Service Mission emerged overnight at the center of the city’s relief efforts, and thousands pitched in.

We are exactly three months out from those deadly storms, and the national media has moved on to other, more salient issues. Alabamians haven’t, though. Quietly, we are carrying on the marathon of rebuilding. It will take us years, but we have neighbors in need.

I teach at UAB, and one of my classes had its final session on April 28, the morning after the storm. I reached as many students as I could to tell them to come to class if they could, but to put a priority on helping others. Helping was way more important than the wrap-up session I had planned.

Long Memorial United Methodist, Cordova, AL

One of my students floored me, though, with his check in message on the class discussion board: “I am using the wi-fi hotspot on my phone to make my computer work. That being said, I will be helping the state to clear the roads in Hanceville/Cullman today. I spent all day cutting trees yesterday and after last night will be doing the same thing today. I am sorry, but I will not be in class today.”

He blew me away with his priority on helping. For all he knew, I could have docked his grade in the course for missing the last class, but he didn’t even ask my permission. He knew that helping people in need was much more important, and he was willing to pay the price to help his neighbors.

The older I get, the more I realize that good people’s lives break apart at times. We all get lost. We all get confused and scared. We all need help. And that’s why I love my South. I love living in a part of the country where helping is still simply what people do. My neighbors, Michelle and Van are the most helpful people I know. And they don’t get a thing out of helping us … unless it’s just that same sense that I have about crowds and neighbors, the joy that only comes in helping.

And they know we’ll be there for them when the tables turn.

See a slide show of Lee’s photos from tornado recovery work:

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7 Responses to “A Little Help Please!”

  1. I loved this. I’m from Alabama and I grew up cooking for funerals and helping out when I could. I live in Asheville, NC now and even though it is still the South, it sometimes has a different vibe than Alabama. I think it depends on the area of Asheville in which you are in. I am glad there are still people who believe in helping others and make it a priority. If we don’t help others, then we might be the one left needing help with nowhere to turn. Thanks for look into Southern life and culture. It’s just who we are.

  2. Good stuff!

  3. Thank you for your heart-warming story. I wish we could fill the world with that kind of compassion and love.


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