Here is a recounting of an event that took place a couple of years ago that I’ve been meaning to write about:
Around 3:30 in the morning Epi and I woke up. It took a moment for me to realize what had disturbed our sleep, and then I heard the shouting. A man’s voice. As I came out of my sleepy haze I realized our bedroom was filled with an eerie flickering orange light and was warm, almost hot. Suddenly I wasn’t in a sleepy haze at all, but wide awake. E. ran out of our room and threw open the door to our back balcony, the entire porch of the house behind ours was in flames. All three stories ablaze with the fire licking at the rest of the house and at the neighbors’.
Epi called 911 right away, trying to explain where the house was and the urgency of the situation. I ran to get our shoes. The heat while standing on our balcony was intense, the smells of wood burning and plastic melting filled our noses. The buzzes of the electrical wires being eaten broke up the roar of the fire in our ears.
For a minute we stood there unsure of what else to do, then we heard a woman’s voice yelling for help, and little kids shouting from inside the home. E. looked at me, ran down the steps of our porch and took off towards the house. I grabbed the keys to our house, my phone, locked things up and took off after him.
As I ran down the alley to get to the other side of the block the electrical transponder connected to the house exploded over me and sparks went everywhere, in the distance I heard sirens – a sound of help on their way. I found E. in front of the house, “Everyone got out okay,” he said. We stood there with everyone until the firetrucks arrived, made sure the families who live in the home had somewhere to go that night, and then walked back to our home.
The next day I was looking at the two pictures I had taken of the fire when E. and I first ran out onto the balcony. As I flipped through the two pictures I landed on the one next in the photo stream, a picture of a page in a book I had been reading. The day prior I had flown back to Chicago and while reading a book, Undaunted by Christine Cain, a paragraph stood out. Without a notebook or pen to write it down I had taken a picture of the page to remind me of what I had read. Seeing the picture and re-reading the paragraph so close to having heard the calls of someone trapped in a burning building gave me a much stronger understanding.
That morning, having been through the experience of the fire and reading the paragraph, I was reminded how important it is to not judge those in bad situations, it’s too easy to jump to conclusions about how that person got there. My job however, is to not judge or criticize but to reach out and offer help and encouragement to get out of those situations.
I thought of how E. and I heard the shouting and our automatic reaction wasn’t to judge how the fire was started. We didn’t sit and discuss whether the person actually should be helped out of the house, E. just took off to the house, ready to get them out.
May we not sit and judge those around us, debate whether they actually need our help, but instead reach out and offer a hand when they cry out.