Fire Aftermath Brings Out the Best

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK


People are awesome.

I’ve thought a lot about people over the years, and they haven’t always been good thoughts. I work, after all, in a business where I often see people at their worst, doing their worst. Actually, two businesses: the emergency services and journalism. In both cases, you don’t usually hear from people unless something is going horribly wrong.

Then, last week as you read this, my sister’s house caught fire.
Everyone got out okay, including the pets. It’s important to start with that information, because naturally it’s the first thing people think of. That’s usually followed directly by “No one got hurt – that’s the important thing”.

Which is only half true. That’s the most important thing, but it’s not the only important thing. “It’s only stuff. It can be replaced.” Usually, yes, but it’s not easy to replace, and it’s not fast or cheap. My sister’s family is in the salvage phase, but it appears they’ve lost almost everything, and will be forced out of their home for at least three months.

(My brother-in-law, an air personality at Willie 103.5 who DJ’s at live events, lost a vinyl record collection. My sister has been collecting Pfaltzgraff in the tea rose pattern since high school – I have no idea what that means, but I know how I’d feel if I lost my old Matchbox fire truck collection.)

It’s not just clothes we’re talking about, but photos, books, electronics, toys, school supplies (with school starting in less than a week), paperwork, bedding, toiletries … you get the idea. Anyone who suggests it’s not a big deal that they lost “only” stuff has never had to deal with starting over again from zero.

Imagine being in your home for many years, having three small kids, and one day waking up to find you’re homeless and your belongings are gone. All gone.

Apparently a lot of people can imagine that … which brings me back to people being awesome.

I’ve seen a lot of tragedy over the years; I’m in the tragedy business. While you do get the occasional jerk that reacts badly, or takes advantage, or is at least uncaring, they’re few and far between.

You might expect instead expressions of concern and caring, additions to prayer lists and, for those who don’t pray, the sending of healing thoughts and good vibes. Don’t ever discount the power of either prayer or mental vibes, which may very well amount to the same thing.

You’d also expect support from friends and relatives: Hugs, donations, sharing, a place to stay and food to eat. Neighbors will show up and do what they can.

Emergency services will control the situation early on, and often stick around to help in the aftermath, to the extent they’re able. The Red Cross will be there, along with other service organizations; that’s just what they do.

All this is because people are very cool.

Still, there’s a general feeling in our society today that people don’t care. It’s all you hear on the news, after all: Somebody’s bleeding on the street and people walk over the body, or stop to check the victim’s wallet for cash. Bad people are loud and attention getting, and evil people make the news. Nobody writes articles about the guy who shows up to volunteer for the food bank, or the woman who checks on her elderly next door neighbor, or the people who band together to solve a problem, instead of complain about it. That’s feel-good stuff, and feel-good stuff doesn’t make ratings compared to blood and violence.

But let me tell you what I experienced this week.

My car was stuffed full of donations from people I don’t know.

People I’ve never met are sending toys to my nephews and niece.

Clothes are being mailed to my family from other states.

People I know only through the internet are sending money to my family members, who they may not have even known about before now.

I have a friend in England who’s sending the kids a package and donated money, to a family thousands of miles away. And don’t you dare tell me that, just because we haven’t met face to face, she’s not a friend.

I’ve had a rough week. Not as rough as other family members, of course, but I’m feeling crappy and stressed and tired and all those other things you’d expect to feel when things are already challenging and then your sister’s house burns. I don’t need pessimism right now, and if there’s any miracle here maybe it’s that I got what I did need, right when I needed it: A renewed faith in the human race.

In the end, if you’re going to go through life with any philosophy at all, you have to decide if humans are basically good, or if they’re basically bad. Well, I’ve been back and forth on this issue, and I suppose I will again, but right now my eyes are wide open and I’m seeing a lot. My conclusion is that there’s good and bad in all of us, but when it comes right down to it most of us have more good than bad, and in a crisis the good will come out. Don’t let the bad ones get you down.

‘Cause people are awesome.

6 comments:

  1. Mark, I'm so sorry for what your sister and her family are going through, but what an uplifting post. I've always believed that most people are, indeed, good. It's nice to see that confirmed.

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  2. Mark, I love the way people pull together to help someone. I believe in Yin/Yang - for every bad thought or deed, there is a good thought or deed. I also believe we ourselves are good and bad. The journey in life is for the good in us to overcome the bad. Your blog shows this does happen. My thoughts to your entire family.

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  3. It's a very uplifting post, Mark. We seem to think people don't care.... but they really surprise you.

    I imagine the loss of family photographs is one that's particularly hard after a fire.

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  4. William, I'm ashamed to admit that people surprise me every day -- I should come to expect it by now. And you're right, it is family photographs that seem to have the biggest impact; I like the idea of being able to store them on some kind of removable media or internet storage space, where a separate copy can be kept.

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