Perfection is sitting front row at a Justin Timberlake concert while you watch him sing and dance to his latest single “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” The man is supremely talented and never fails to put a huge smile on my face. That’s where I was when someone grabbed my arm and yelled something to me. The only word I seemed to catch was “fire.” I was thinking to myself, isn’t it illegal to yell “FIRE” in a crowded venue? All of a sudden the earth was shaking and before I knew it, I was woken up from my peaceful slumber. My eyes opened and I saw a blurry vision of my mom standing over my bed shaking me. I rubbed my eyes and tried to open them as best as I could. Her face had panic and fear written all over it. She said, “I think the neighbor’s house is on fire!” This didn’t really alarm me. I think everyone has had an incident at least once in their life when their moms think they smell smoke. Mine was no different. In my mind I brushed it off as paranoia, but got up just to amuse her. I walked down the stairs in the dark and stumbled across the living room to the window facing the backyard. What time was it even? I peered through the blinds to look at my neighbor’s house. I could not believe what I was seeing. My eyes grew wide and I stared for a good few seconds before my body started to react. My heart rate started to rise and I rushed to find a phone. Of course in the time of a crisis, it’s near impossible to find what you’re looking for. I finally found a telephone and dialed 9-1-1 like I had been trained to do so in the time of an emergency since the first grade. “9-1-1 what is your emergency?” “My neighbor’s house is on fire!”
It’s amazing how much information your brain stores that you aren’t even aware of. There is a dance I was taught when I was a little girl, for a church function, that I am fairly certain I could do if I heard the song even while in a coma. Like that, in the time of an emergency, your body becomes hyper-vigilant and your brain switches into survival mode. It’s amazing. But, back to the story.
She asked for the crossroads of my house. “There is a fire truck on the scene, two more are on their way.” After hanging up I rushed back to the window. How long was I gone? The flames had erupted. When I first saw the fire, it was only on one side of the house. Now the entire house was covered in flames and the area surrounding in smoke. It was like watching a scene from a movie. Way up in the air I could see water pouring down on the house from a tall ladder. A few moments later, my dad came rushing down. The fire seemed to only get bigger. The three of us held each other and cried as we helplessly watched. We hoped and prayed that the family had gotten out safely and that no one was hurt. Physically, at the very least.
We stood and watched as the most beautiful house in our neighborhood went up in smoke. We watched as firefighters worked tirelessly to fight the fire. As the sun began to rise, the smoke finally began to die down and we could see the extent of the damage done to the house. Their entire gazebo and deck were gone. Whole trees were burned and just a skinny trunk was left. Windows were broken and a huge chunk of the roof had been swallowed up by the fire. The firefighters took off their safety suits and guzzled down bottles of water and then doused their faces with it. They made multiple rounds making sure every ember was extinguished. I could hear news choppers flying above us and the loud cry of a woman. The couple that lived in the house hugged and wept as they slowly walked the perimeter of their house looking at what was left over from the fire.
The whole thing took about an hour and a half. That’s all it took to take down what on the outside looked like a magnificent structure. We have lived in our house for exactly 12 years. For 12 years I have watched the member of the house pull weeds out of their lawn, host weddings and BBQs on their deck, and sit around with their family and friends under their gazebo. Never have I met 2 people who worked this hard. I have watched as each year they meticulously worked on their exquisite garden. They took great pride in the appearance of their house. Not a leaf was out of place.
The entire day I sat around feeling numb from the tragedy I just witnessed. I looked around my own house at the family pictures on the wall, little mementos from trips we had taken, and many plants my mom had collected over the years. I was reminded of that age-old question, “If your house was on fire what 3 things would you save?” I have always given the standard answer of 1) my family 2) picture albums and 3) important documents. But now as I sat and thought about that same question, I couldn’t come up with a list of 3 things. Actually, the very thought of my house being on fire brought tears to my eyes. Because the truth is, each and every thing in my house had a memory tied to it. My house wasn’t perfect. In fact it was anything but that to an outsider looking at my house. There was a coffee stain on the carpet peaking out from underneath the rug, dried flowers on our mantle that I had been meaning to toss out for months, and dust collecting on our coffee table. Only to me it was so much more. That stain on the carpet was from the time I spilled coffee on it because I was laughing so hard at a joke my dad told. The dried flowers on the mantle were the boutonnieres from my brother’s wedding. And the dust on the coffee table is because sometimes it’s better to be Mary rather than Martha.
We left our blinds shut the rest of the day because we couldn’t bear to look over at the house. If our grief was so much, I could only imagine what our neighbors were going through. I know so much importance shouldn’t be given to material things. They are temporary and will fade away. But a home is an extension of your family. It is your haven and place of rest. It is the place you hold sacred and feel most safe. When that is compromised, you lose your sense of security. A lifetime of memories are tied to 4 pillars of wood. Fortunately, those memories didn’t fade away with the fire. They are kept alive by their family, friends, and the community that rallied together.
This tragedy didn’t make me hug the walls of my own home tight but it did remind me to hug the people inside. It didn’t make me value the things inside of my house, but it made me value the time I had inside.
If you asked me a week ago what perfection is, I would’ve answered, “sitting front row at a Justin Timberlake concert” without hesitation. But now my idea of perfection is sitting at home with my family, talking, laughing, and most importantly, making memories I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Below is a video clip I took a few weeks ago admiring my work after painting our deck. Little did I know the focus of the video was about to shift to the house that I just happened to catch in the background.