As some of you may know there was a fire in my complex on Monday. It started a few houses down and stopped about 35' shy of my front door. The kids and I were evacuated and it was the scariest thing I had ever been through in my entire life.
Today, almost a week later, one of the neighbors was having a bonfire. Since the weather is gorgeous we've had our windows open all week and the smell of smoke drifted into the dining room as we were eating dinner. For me this created an instant panic response. I jumped up from the table so fast that I smashed and sliced open my knees, ran to the front door, threw it open, and before I knew it, I was on the sidewalk turning in circles and scrutinizing every house I could see for signs of danger.
My family was very fortunate. Nothing of ours was damaged and except for a slight smoke smell that dissipated within a few days we were unscathed. Our neighbors and friends were not so lucky. After all was said and done five families are homeless. One family lost everything they had, including a cherished pet, and the other families have been spending their week coming back to the complex trying to salvage whatever small amount of personal belongings that they can.
All week I've been watching my friends walking back and forth to the dumpster with their heads hanging low as they throw armful after armful of what was once treasured memories over the side. It is heartbreaking to witness. They look up and their eyes are empty and dead. The despair is palpable. The neighborhood is silent and still. No more kids riding bikes and playing loudly outside. No more cars driving. It's almost like a ghost town. All of us still here try to offer help, a smile, water, food, clothing, anything we can think of, even though we know that nothing can fix this. Nothing will ever make this ok, and nothing can erase this from their minds.
What I remember most is how fast it was, even though in the moment time seemed to be dragging on and on, when I was allowed back in my house only about two hours had passed. Two hours was all it took to completely change lives. Just two hours and life was altered with no possibility of going back to what it was before, not for us and certainly not for our neighbors. For the house where it originated, it started and everything was gone within 45 minutes. I've never seen anything be that destructive in such a short time. Yes, I realize that tornadoes, tsunamis, etc are much faster, but none of those have ever happened next door. This was the first disaster I have ever witnessed first hand.
It left an impression that I'm not sure I'll ever shake and maybe that's good. Maybe I can turn this into a positive thing. It has already made me much more aware of what's going on around me and maybe once the sadness passes it will remind me how quickly everything can be gone and I can gain some perspective and appreciate the time I've been blessed with. Maybe.
For now, I'm still scared, and I feel guilty for that every time I talk to my neighbors or help haul a box to the trash. For now, I feel hopeless. For now, I want arms big enough to wrap up the world and protect it the way I do my children. I want to heal them and I want to help them and I have no clue how to accomplish any of that.