Thursday, March 3, 2011

162. Tragedy shows good in people

We always hear how precious and fleeting life can be. While clichés run rampant, usually in regards to taking time to enjoy life and not to spend time worrying about the little things, when misfortune happens-the clichés suddenly seem somewhat insightful and not so ambiguous.

On February 8, my family was involved in the house fire that occurred in Sheffield Township. My wife and I purchased the house in 1998 and her family has lived there since then. In the fire, Tom, my brother-in-law died from smoke inhalation and my mother-in-law lost her home. Remarkably, her dog and four cats all survived and are all now snuggly living with my mother.

While we will never know what happened for sure, we believe that the fire started up in Tom's bedroom. Tom then ran downstairs to open the front door for the animals before going back upstairs to try to put out the fire. It's a natural reaction, and a mistake that many people make-one that I would probably make, especially if one of our animals were at risk. Unfortunately, smoke inhalation can be deadly. The fire investigator told us that he has seen people go back into the house for something as insignificant as a cell phone, only to be overcome by smoke.

For us, it was a normal Tuesday. I had just gone through a workout and then went to dinner with my wife. We came home, where I was hurrying to get to my on-line class when we got the message. The rest of the evening was surreal and several times my wife and I had to consider whether this was reality or just a bad dream.

When we arrived at the house, there were several fire departments and their personnel everywhere. The fire had already been put out and Tom had been taken to the hospital-where my mother-in-law was also. We did not know for sure, but all indications were that he did not survive. The Red Cross was on the scene and was very kind in letting us know how they could help. After speaking to the firefighters, who were brave and courteous, we got the dog and one of the cats and headed to the hospital. I'd have to return later in the dark frigid cold to find the other cats.

Unfortunately, the difficulties have not ended for my mother-in-law. On a trip to Aldi's with my mom, she fell on the ice and broke her wrist. Employed as a restaurant server, she cannot work with a broken wrist-and because she would not be able to work for four to six weeks, her employer promptly fired her. And, she's been in the hospital twice this month with pneumonia. In a month, my mother-in-law has lost her son, her house and her job-and nothing but time to sit around thinking about it. Can you imagine?

As a social critic, I often struggle with a world that I think could be much improved. However, my family and I were completely overwhelmed by the support we received from our families, friends and the local community. People donated time, money and food to my mother-in-law, who probably won't be back into her house for at least four months. Friends and family we haven't seen for years, you know, those friends you keep saying you're going to have dinner with, stopped what they were doing and reached out to us. We could not be more thankful.

We'll miss Tom and any number of life quotes seem applicable. We never know what tomorrow will bring. Tragedy can strike anyone on any day. It is important to plan for the future, but we should make a point to enjoy each and every day. It's true we sometimes take life for granted, and get bogged down worrying and arguing about the little things-those things that at the end of the day are meaningless. While some days in our lives will clearly be more important than others, we might want to steer clear of those routine days-the ones that have the potential to turn into years. In that respect, there's nothing wrong with getting an early start on that bucket list-just in case.

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