The worn out, moldy wooden boards creak and squeak as I walk across them, attempting to give way and crumble to pieces. The ramp seems like it will fall apart at any moment. It was used by an older lady with a wheelchair with stark white hair and blind eyes. We were told that we would have to demolish almost all of it. It was located by the dazzling river, the water like glittering gems in the moonlight, a picturesque setting that didn’t quite match its surroundings. The leader of our work group, Craig, calls out instructions in his soft-spoken way: “We’re going to start pulling the old nails out of the boards, and remove the boards from the ramp.” We set off the work, using hammers to pull the nails out, a painstaking process that starts to take more and more time. My hands sting red from yanking hammers and tugging boards. I wipe a bead of sweat off my brow as the sun rises higher and higher into the clear blue sky.
I pull my hammer towards me with one last rusty nail, pulling with all my strength, until finally the nail pops out. “Whew,” I breathe a sigh of relief.
“All right, everybody,” Craig smiles. “Great work. Now we’re going to have to move on to the supports, so come over here so I can show you.” Craig kneels down on the ground and measures the three longer lengths, makes sure they are the same length, then moves on to the two boards that make up the width, forming a box.
He drills them together as the oncoming rush of noise cuts through the silence and stillness of the waves lapping against the rocks nearby. I take a breath of the salty air and wish the sun wouldn’t be as blistering on this one day.
“You guys understand how to do it now?” Craig asks. We all chorus yeses back towards him. “Then let’s get to work.”
Tess, Amy and I pull boards from the ground that could be used for the longer length of the supports and move them into different piles, according to their size. I pull board after board from the intimidating mammoth heap of rusted boards and hidden nails.
“This is going to take a loooong time,” Tess sighs as she pulls yet another nail from a board. I nod but still stay focused on the task. I look over to the shady area, where David, Jeff and Megan are working on another support, and one has already been placed into the monster of mud that was once the ramp. Tess and I head over to the shady area, and start to drill the supports together. I hold down the boards as Tess drills and then we switch, working as rapidly and orderly as a well-oiled machine. Before we know it, the three last supports have been placed into the dirt and we start to nail more wooden boards back on top.
“Great work guys,” Craig calls. “But we only have thirty more minutes to finish this.” We all look around at each other and wordlessly go to work, trying to finish the ramp so the older lady doesn’t have to wait any longer to have a safe way to exit her house. I rapidly use the power drill to drill in the screws, moving board by board as we attempt to cover the entire ramp. Tess and I glance each other as our hopes sink lower with the evening sun. I can tell that all of my work group and I want to see our hard work pay off-and see a sturdy new ramp built for someone who really needs it.
I can see that we only have one more support that we have to nail boards over when Francesca, our other crew leader, sighs. “We’re going to have to leave now, guys.” The words hang over us for a moment, sinking in. “Nick and Craig will come back to finish tomorrow.” We don’t speak as our hammers go back into their pails and our nails into their toolbox. I take one last long look at the almost-completed ramp that we had built that day, and head back to camp.
From that steamy July day, working on that wheelchair ramp, I realize just how fortunate I am to live in a wealthy, pleasant place and always have enough money. Working through the heat and doubts floating through my mind was tough, but I had to be dedicated and determined to get through it and truly accomplish something. I recognize that I can build things with my own two hands, and I could accomplish things once I put my mind to it. I know through building the ramp that day today I push myself to work harder every day, and don’t quit easily. Through that experience I know I will always want to finish something that I am committed to as I start it, just as my work crew and I were that day.