Meet The Neighbors: Meet Josh Hubel, light in the darkness
Katie Girard is a Gaston-based writer. Read more of her work at MeetTheNeighbors.net.
With his American flag baseball cap, dark, neatly clipped beard, and arms covered in ink, retired Marine Josh Hubel still looks the part of serviceman. A heavy-duty orange leafblower attached to his back reads "Magnum."
At first glance, he isn't a person you would suspect of having a Mother Teresa-like countenance. But when he smiles, his eyes brighten, and you feel immediately at ease.
It's October of 2018, and he is putting that leafblower to good use. After five minutes of working on his own yard, he reaches out to total strangers online to see if anyone needs help with theirs. No charge. And it's not just because he likes his newest toy so much. Josh likes people. Really.
A single father of two children whom he took backpacking through Colombia, fearless service comes naturally to him. As a child, he watched his parents lead by example by being helpful, active members in their community. This urge to do for others is what led him to join the Marines in the first place.
Spring forward to May of 2019. As Josh waits for his children to arrive home from school, he stumbles upon a National Suicide Prevention post shared by a friend.
Like many others, Josh knows people who have suffered, and the agony of losing a loved one. He understands what it is to live in the shadow of loss. In 2003, he broke his back while serving his country. In addition to the physical pain, his career halted, and he was tasked with leaving his military brothers and sisters. Long before he would have chosen.
His friend's post asks others to share it. Without hesitation, Josh fills in his name, address and phone number, giving it his own spin. He posts it to a local Facebook community page in Forest Grove, Oregon.
"If you're sad, come to me. My home is safe. I am always good for a hug," the message reads. "Anyone who needs to chat is welcome anytime. It's no good suffering in silence. I have food to share, beverages to drink, and listening ears or shoulders to cry on. I will always be here, and you are always welcome. You can even stay for a fire and movie outside. ... We all go through dark times, but we don't have to go through them alone."
The response from the community is overwhelming.
"Thank you for being a wonderful human!"
"How can we help?"
"We need more people like you in this world!"
Over the next few days, more than a dozen people contact him. In search of something offline to post at his home, he heads to Miracle Signs. Andy, the owner, makes him not one but 24 signs, free of charge. At the top of the sign is a white hand print with a red circle around it. Beneath are the words, "Stop Suicide. SUICIDE SAFE HOUSE, Welcome 24 Hours," and his phone number. He hangs it on a tree in front of his house.
"My living room is comfortable. Inviting," Josh says. "I found all these cool pieces with a distressed look at the antique store up the road. My aunt calls the décor 'shabby chic.' I don't know about that. I prefer something else. Like 'rustic farmhouse.'" He laughs.
Since Josh's Facebook post went public, a small but steady movement has sprung up in town. Many have asked if they can have a sign to put in front of their home. Some businesses have requested one to hang outside of their shop fronts, so that those passing by know their store is a safe space. For Josh, the texts, calls and drop-ins from people searching for connection are pouring in.
"You know when you're a kid, how you can just walk up to someone and say, 'Will you be my friend?' I wish it were that simple for adults. And why can't it be?"
One starless night, just as Josh is heading out, there is a knock at his door. Josh answers. The light from inside spills out onto a man in his early 20.
"Hi, welcome to my home."
While he doesn't pry, Josh knows this young man is here for a reason, and it's not necessarily because he is suicidal. "99% of the time, that reason is loneliness ... people are looking to connect."
Josh opens his arms to give the promised hug from his post. The man hesitates. Josh waits.
"You gotta break through the barrier sometime, man," he says.
The young man steps forward into the lighted doorway. The hug, though a bit awkward, is the needed icebreaker, and perhaps the first physical contact the young man has had in some time.
"Hey, I was just heading out to look for a lost dog I read about. Wanna come with?" Josh asks.
With a mainstream education in psychology and a street-roots education in how to get along with people, Josh soon puts the man at ease.
"I've had men and women ranging in ages from 20 and 60 contact me," Josh says. "I took a grandma to lunch one day because she just needed to talk. Maybe they have people in their lives, but sometimes it's easier to open up to a stranger .... I don't ask a bunch of questions or try to solve their problems. I'm just here for them, and most of the time, that's all people really need."