Five years ago I spent my birthday on a roof in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. I didn’t know anything about roofing—I’d hesitate to say that I know much about it now—but this didn’t stop a kid from Habitat for Humanity from handing me a hammer and pointing to the roof. He said, “Just don’t fall. That would be bad.” By 10:30 a.m. on volunteer day our motley crew of five had shingled our first roof. That afternoon we mounted ...

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