My house burst into flames at 8:02 am on November 25.
My husband and I were sleeping in on this last day of the Thanksgiving holiday. Our cat, Sargent Pepper, had been pawing at my husband’s face for a few minutes, her usual morning ploy to get us to feed her.
On this morning she was insistent, refusing to be deterred. And then we smelled the smoke, creeping up from below, entering the bathroom.
“Call emergency! I’ll get the hose!” yelled my husband, thrusting a cell phone into my hands.
I ran outside in my skimpy nightdress and was dialing 911 when I heard a huge whoosh and an explosion. Flames were roaring out of our basement, the garden hose my husband was holding no match for their intensity. “Don’t go back in there,” the emergency operator ordered.
The first fire engine came in two minutes, then another, and another, and another, and another. But it was too late: the firefighters had to chainsaw half our roof off, punch huge holes in our ceilings, and smash every window, to let all that smoke out. I stood in a daze, weeping and shivering uncontrollably.
Two weeks later, I want to tell the whole world that I am grateful.
On that chilly Sunday morning, neighbors brought warm jackets, pants, socks, shoes, and helped us clothe ourselves. They hugged us, gave us tea, coffee, more hugs, even some English chocolate biscuits, my favorite. They formed a human chain to help the firefighters carry out our possessions: computers, clothes, purses, jewelry, photos.
For two nights our dear friends gave up their bedroom for us and provided a home for Sargent Pepper.
I am overwhelmed by how generous everyone was.
We moved to a hotel, and then an apartment, where my husband’s work colleagues have provided home-cooked dinners every night for a week. Both my husband and I received incredibly generous gifts of money from our places of work, individual contributions from our colleagues.
Most of all I am grateful for my husband, my son and of course my cat. Without Sargent Pepper’s insistent pawing, we would not have escaped safely.
Losing my home to a fire has come to seem like a gift: it has allowed me to recognize the importance of the relationships that I have with my family and friends.
I am lucky that we have a sympathetic insurance adjuster, who has so far been great, and hopefully we will in time be able to replace much of what we have lost.
But the core of my life is not my possessions; instead it is the deep, nurturing relationships that sustain me and bind me to others, notably my husband and son. And this fire, in destroying almost all of my physical belongings, has made me profoundly aware of how vital to my existence those relationships are. I don’t need all those things; I do need those human connections.
That is why I am grateful.
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Photo of my burned out house courtesy of joe baker