How moving Roger moved me

Helping college friends and roommates "move house," as a British friend calls it, was a custom I gladly outgrew. Though we were all for one and one for all at that 20-something time of life, our moves were not created equal. Some were organized; some were not.

Most also involved some hallmark difficulty: hottest/coldest/rainiest day of the year; moving van too small by half; a fellow English major's innumerable leaden boxes of books; the blissful young marrieds whose crew arrived to find that the couple in question had only just begun ... to pack.

I was generally packed when my turn came to move, mostly because I loathed placing my own unkempt household inventory on display. A curious friend once insisted on unpacking my kitchen after I'd moved across town. I demurred: "I haven't decided where to put things."

"I'll help!" she declared, adding, "I'll even alphabetize your spice rack!" Little did she know that my spices would soon revert to what I called "psychological order."

As our college years gave way to careers, some friends moved too far away to enlist further assistance. Others found jobs with employers who paid for their moves. Me? I simply stopped moving. The fact that I've lived in the same home for 16 years says more about my aversion to transplanting my abode - not to mention someone else's - than about career trajectory or fondness for my neighborhood.

So I was taken aback when a middle-aged Spanish professor from my church recently broadcast a call for assistance with his upcoming move. Roger had been our congregation's volunteer handyman extraordinaire, repairing many a trickling toilet tank and flickering fluorescent light. Now he'd accepted a teaching position 250 miles away. Though he didn't frame his request as a quid pro quo, in his hour of need we definitely owed him some hours of our own.

Inwardly, I groaned. But I knew this would be nothing like those chaotic, marathon moves of my youth, for Roger was a paragon of efficiency. We would simply load up his truck and dispatch him with a wave.

Sure enough, when I arrived at his erstwhile home on the appointed day, the U-Haul was backed up to the front door, ramp in place.

"Cheryl's bringing a dolly," Roger announced as he opened the door, preoccupied with some telephone-disconnection conundrum. As expected, dozens of packed boxes stood stacked in the living room. As I began lugging, four more helpers arrived; then Cheryl appeared, dolly in tow. I was especially glad to see her, for we had worked well together on many a church task. Our team soon found its rhythm, marching boxes through the kitchen like an industrious line of ants, dispensing jokes in passing, polishing our banter, toting our own fun.

When it came time to bring the washer and dryer up the basement stairs, Cheryl and I stepped forward as one. We'd moved metaphorical mountains together in the past, we declared; we would make quick work of two mere appliances.

With Roger steering from above, Cheryl and I shoving from below, we fairly scooted the dryer up the steps. The washer, however, stalled near the top, too tall to clear a doorknob. The solution: tip it, then lift from below.

"Ready?" Roger asked.

Cheryl and I exchanged glances.

"Ready!" we replied. Panting, we hefted. The machine landed upright.

Next we loaded odd-shaped unboxables: table legs, lamp bases, a 50-pound bag of barley. One woman hoisted a giant plastic jug skyward like a torch. "Where do you buy olive oil in this quantity, Roger?" she asked.

"This tabletop weighs a living ton!" muttered another helper as he wrestled it out the door. Earlier he'd taken a protracted break, reading the newspaper in Roger's last remaining living-room chair. Now he seemed energized, perhaps by our threat to load the chair with him in it.

"Nice rugs," remarked still another volunteer, as she rolled them up to use for padding.

"The big one's handmade," Roger said proudly. "I got it at a garage sale."

By 3 p.m. we'd loaded the bulk of Roger's belongings. As he surveyed the scene, his expression telegraphed gratitude and relief. He seemed humbled - and, well, moved.

I felt wistful. I'd learned more about Roger in the past few hours than I had during a dozen earlier, impersonal committee meetings and Sunday-morning exchanges. Handling his possessions (his very history!), learning about his future, packing a last errant potholder (inside the microwave; where else?) had helped me absorb his departure. I suspected that our crew would feel his absence that much more deeply for having helped, in our small way, to bring it about.

That night I reflected on the goodwill we'd crammed into the back of that rented truck. A few days later, I received Roger's prompt and proper thank-you note, so true to form. I wanted to thank him, too. For he'd helped me resurrect the camaraderie, the bonhomie of yesteryear's youthful moves, when we were all so eager to be going somewhere.

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