A Fire and A Response

Yesterday morning, the apartment building in which one of my students lived burned to the ground. Fortunately, he woke to the smoke alarms and made it out of the building safely, albeit with nothing except his keys, phone and wallet, and the clothes he was wearing. I was very worried about him and was quite relieved when I finally spoke to him.

I spent some time during the morning and afternoon yesterday in phone and e-mail contact with various of his friends and other faculty at the law school. Our outgoing Interim Dean commented in one e-mail to me that “perhaps the lemonade out of this lemon is that he will see so clearly that he is loved, and he is both a blessed man and a blessing to others.” There is real truth to his comment; I was deeply moved by the response to the fire and his loss.

I am sadly no poet, but as I reflected on the events of the day, I felt impelled to try to put in words what I felt. Here is what I wrote yesterday:

A fire caused by who knows what, means
what was (until yesterday) a building inhabited by many
is now a smoldering ruin about to collapse.

A young man who barely escaped, with only
his wallet, keys, phone and the clothes on his back
stands dazed, watching all he owned disappear.

He has nothing left.
It’s all gone.

But – no – That’s not right. Nothing is left EXCEPT
something more important than his things.
(The things, after all, can be replaced.)

“Tell him he is loved.” “Remind him we’re here.”
“I have a guest room.” “If he want to talk, I’ll listen.”
“If he needs money or clothes, or anything, we’ll give it.”

A stranger gives him his coat.
Another hands him money.
A restaurant owner buys him lunch (and gives him a care package for later).

The offers and messages pour in
letting him know he is not alone.
Assuring him of love and care, and promising to provide all he needs.

This is what we do. When the suffering comes –
as it inevitable will, in various forms and shapes and sizes –
we pick each other up, we give and do what’s needed.

As all this was happening, someone else (unconnected to these events)
wrote a pessimistic Note on Facebook describing a relationship
in which the participants conversed in “dialects of narcissism.”

No such dialects here. Instead, very different strains.
In the responses to this young man’s plight,
I (with delight) heard many splendid dialects of love.


2 thoughts on “A Fire and A Response

  1. As someone who lost almost everything in a fire, I believe you have touched truth here. We came out with a bit more than your student and we lost no people, no pets. We were blessed by those who brought a meal, listened when I needed to talk and just generally offered support. “Stuff” can be replaced. Some of it, you might find you are just fine without.

    I pray for the best for your student. And thanks for sharing.

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