When giving up apparently is not an option

Southwest Airlines First Officer Ingo had a dream.

On his 44 acres of bucolic paradise, overlooking a wooded lake, he would build his future castle. And I don’t mean have it built, I mean build it himself, or at least as much as his time and abilities would allow.

So, for three years he toiled away, spilling sweat and a little blood, through many long days into realizing the dream. His 16 year old son discovered emerging talents, too, including tiling and other building tasks. He wants to be an architect so this was great experience. And, according to his dad, he was good at it. Such talents will serve him well.

When the house became lockable, Ingo moved his personal effects and furniture from storage. No sense in paying for that any more.

On at least one occasion, when the end was close and friends wanted to help him celebrate a birthday they asked what they could get him. “one day of labor” he said, “would be the best birthday present you could offer.” And so they did.

Ingo was the general contractor and did lots of work himself. Besides minding over the various trades, cleaning up between jobs, helping whenever it was needed, and mothering over the process, he installed cabinets, tiled, put in counters and finished countless other building chores.

All the while he lived in a single-wide trailer behind the house while working his full-time airline job.

At two weeks prior to moving in, the house was essentially done. Friends and family planned a party around move-in day. The fruits of his labor were about to be picked.

One night, Ingo pulled his year-old Ford truck into the garage, locked up and went to bed in the trailer—just as he’d done so many nights prior. It would be the last time for that truck.

The next sound he heard was a neighbor banging on his door with the dreadful  words. “Your house is on fire!”

He ran out in disbelief. Smoke poured from the ends, flames licked at the windows and popping sounds erupted from within. As he walked by a vehicle parked outside, a tire exploded, somehow showering him with glass shards.

The fire department was on the way but it was too late—the house was gone. Through the raucous of a consuming conflagration he could hear smoke alarms blaring. Soon even those went silent as their wires melted.

It’s amazing how fire inspectors can make sense of what little charred remains were left. The garage-parked truck was sitting on its rims, in a now-hardened puddle of aluminum that used to be wheels. That truck, a nearly brand new Ford pickup, turns out to have been the cause.

Sometime after he parked it, a wire from the hot side of the battery shorted out prior to its fuse. With no protection, a huge current flowed turning the wire into a filament and lighting nearby materials. The fire never looked back.

It burned so intensely that, for 5 days afterwards, he had to call the fire department back several times to extinguish flare-ups. What few parts were initially standing, soon succumbed to the intense residual heat from the smoldering mass of remains.

There was nothing left that could be recovered. All his personal possessions, family memorabilia, pictures from 20 years of military flying and furniture—gone.

The story of tenacity that built this house is one of many but, what makes this unique is what came next.

Ingo’s next purchase was a large, used dump truck that he would use to haul it all to a dump. What a daunting task, driving three years of your labor, a house never occupied, away in a dump truck. A process that would take several weeks on its own.

Ingo tells this story in such a matter-of-fact way that it surprised me. “I’m rebuilding my house” he said as we prepared the cockpit. Rebuilding? “It burned down and I’m back at it again, we’ll be framing when I get back.” Wow! He filled in the details during our trip, acknowledging that it must be viewed as a process, a “one foot in front of other” kind of affair where you don’t look too hard at the destination–it’s too distant. No, he looks at each task and digs in, simply making sure its done properly. The next task will worry itself, for now he’ll concentrate on this one.

And so the steps begin anew.

He swears he’ll never put a car in the garage again. I don’t blame him. It had to scorch his psyche given how new cars aren’t supposed to just catch fire and burn down your home.

He’s thankful to still have his family–nobody was hurt–but the thought of being in the house when that happened would be traumatic although they would have been alerted early on.

I’m sure he spent some time in disbelief but that was apparently short lived. At this writing, a new example of human tenacity is rising over the burnt foundation. It will be an even more powerful testament to our ability to push through incredible circumstances in pursuit of our dreams. Ingo is an example of what can be done, even when the chips get charred beyond recognition. I’ll look forward to another picture.