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column: Fire Aftermath Brings Out the Best



            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.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 24th, 2011 08:22 am (UTC)
I thought you might be interested to know that immediately below your post in my FL says "Faith in Human Nature Restored".
Aug. 24th, 2011 01:02 pm (UTC)
Why, if that's not a sign, what is?
Aug. 24th, 2011 08:52 am (UTC)
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.

And isn't that a great thing to know.
Aug. 24th, 2011 01:03 pm (UTC)
It sure is ... and isn't it too bad that so many people don't know it. Of course, come about January I'll be with them, but in March I'll get over it.
Aug. 24th, 2011 10:00 am (UTC)
Mark, it's in part because your friends love you and don't like to see you hurting. And because you're such a decent guy your family hurting means you hurting.

In the end it's all about paying it forward, anyway, isn't it? If we've ever been helped by strangers we have a duty to pay it forward. That's my take on it, anyway.

Aug. 24th, 2011 01:05 pm (UTC)
I believe that's a very good take on it! It's not something that can be forced or legislated; it's a moral obligation, made meaningful by being given freely. I've seen the most unlikely people take that extra moment to help someone in a little or big way, for no other reason than to do the right thing.
Aug. 24th, 2011 01:29 pm (UTC)
I think that's what I like about the bad things...the chance to see the good come out of it, especially when you need to see or believe it.

And since most of us, by chance or design, won't be saving people from burning buildings or anything even mildly risky or heroic, we can certainly do this.

And yeah, I think you have to look at this as an extension of yourself, we know you and you need help, basically. Nice to know you've been judged and found up to snuff, eh? *g*

I hope your family recovers and rebuilds as quickly and stress-free as possible.
Aug. 24th, 2011 08:41 pm (UTC)
That's actually a theme of my fiction writing, in a way: No matter how much bad stuff happens in my stories, one thing you can be sure of is that I'll have a happy ending. That's just what I like to see, myself. I don't see the sense in depressing myself by having bad things happen without that chance for good to come out of it.

But I'm fooling you if you think I'm like this all the time: From November through March I can be a real bear to live with. Just ask anyone who's lived with me! Maybe I spend the rest of the year trying to make up for that.

Aug. 24th, 2011 02:33 pm (UTC)
I try to avoid the news because man's inhumanity to man is too depressing for words. I do know there are good people and bad but it always seems we hear a bout the the bad, way more than the good.

Your article made me cry (in a good way)

And don’t you dare tell me that, just because we haven’t met face to face, she’s not a friend.
Best line ever! It's sometimes very hard to explain my flist to people who aren't here on lj.
Aug. 24th, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean -- actually, it was part of my point: You never hear about all the good people, just the bad ones. At least, hardly ever.

People who don't make friends online just don't get it!
Aug. 26th, 2011 12:58 am (UTC)
That's awesome.
Aug. 26th, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC)
Isn't it, though? But not as awesome as your icon.
Aug. 28th, 2011 12:01 am (UTC)
Thank you! That's a personal favorite icon of mine!
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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