Working alongside a group of high school boys trying to re-claim what used to be the beach community of Belmar New Jersey, my mind wandered to the adolescent boy I once was.
Most of those I talked to came from nearby towns that had not been hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Like many adolescents, they didn't speak until spoken to or smile unless smiled at. They worked silently, occasionally competing with one another as we dismantled a mangled boardwalk. When I made a suggestion about handling boards with jutting nails, they followed it without comment. When I remarked on their strength or their facility using a crowbar or sledge hammer, my compliments were politely deflected. I learned one name, though only after offering mine first to a boy I worked with side-by-side the first hour.
Though I tried, I could not recall a single instance from my young life where I did a service like these boys. I hope this is just my memory failing me. Thinking of the alternative, that I was too self-absorbed to do anything like this when I was the same age, is too difficult. After resting my older-than-adolescent body for a day or so, I'll return to the work. And though I won't embarrass any of them by speaking of my admiration for their selfless volunteering, I will learn more names and draw a few of them out a bit more. They're young, but like most people I've met, they'll have stories they want to share.