“I’m in the Restoration Business”

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I heard this phrase so many times growing up. My father Bill Barbee worked in construction from the time he was 14 years old. He was a natural at anything requiring his hands, and for him, this type of work was like art is for some other people.

He made a conscious choice not to complete college, when a relative advised him: “College isn’t for everyone.” At 20, he married my mother and became a father to me, and just a handful of years later, he clearly saw the need to work for himself. He began the reconstruction company Fire Restoration Incorporated, later held under MTB Enterprises (my mother’s initials). My mom created the graphics in a time before the internet.

Restoration is a special type of labor for a couple of reasons.

You have to be able to “see a book for more than its cover”, to start with. A home or commercial building which might look “ruined” to the owner, will so often be just fine and as good as new if attended by a professional.

You have to be willing to get your hands dirty. In restoration, it’s always messy when you start. Someone who doesn’t mind rolling up their sleeves and getting to work in a disaster site keeps the long game in mind. He appreciates earning an honest wage for honest work, and he draws satisfaction from being of service. This type of person is especially comfortable in the absence of immediate gratification, and keeps an unwavering vision of the object in its renewed state, as he brings it through the messy details of process.

You have to be calm in crisis. When a fire, flood, wind or tree damages a person’s home, there’s a degree of trauma. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always there’s injury, shock, or stress involved. To work with people in this state requires extreme skill and confidence. My dad could credibly assure a property owner that the situation would improve and would be okay in the end. He was able to do this for two reasons. First, his technical skills in restoration were an unshakable absolute in his mind. But he also had another required skill to work with people in crisis: he was calm and steady under pressure, which allowed him to connect with that other person. Without this calm, steadiness in the presence of another’s crisis, no amount of technical ability could have penetrated their varying states of shock, grief, confusion and even anger. His ability to connect with people is undoubtedly what enabled this young man to eventually build a small empire in the disaster restoration industry in the Southeast United States. His caring for people mattered most.

∵ ∷ ∵

Well, I’m in the Restoration business, too. Apologies if this lead-in was a bit transparent [see me chuckling now]… But this morning when I woke up and looked with joy and deep satisfaction at my boyfriend’s languishing succulent which I repotted last night with full knowledge that we are reviving it, these thoughts of my father are what flooded to mind. Just by being himself, my dad taught me to draw this satisfaction from the gift of Renewal. It invigorates me more than creation does, and even more than “finished products” do. He taught me to get my hands dirty — with his words, and actions. And he and my mother lovingly demonstrated the importance of the fact that “beauty is only skin deep”. This truth has been the richest source of peace to me throughout the years, and it equips me to perform the work I’ve chosen for my life.

For me, restoration is different in practice than it was for Bill Barbee, but we both work with people. I work with marvelous individuals every day, who are whole, capable, brilliant, funny, and good to the core. We all get a little tarnish on us when storms happen in life, but the effect of forgetting just how spectacularly ________ (fill in the blank) we really are and always were can create some significant obstacles in our daily experience! Refreshing the memory of our intrinsic capabilities allows you to get on with being your amazing self in a more relaxed, confident way. Lucky for me, this light-hearted practice just so happens to be my “work”.

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