Fire can be brutal.
In a hearth, it is warm and inviting.
Uncontrolled, untamed, it destroys.
My friend, Ula, whose house by the lake we are visiting right now, picks up cigarette butts when walking their dog. Their road is quiet, ending at the lakeside where they live. It’s the only way in and still, she finds cigarette butts on the road.
In the verdant forest, one cigarette butt casually thrown from a car window could have devastating impact.
In the case of the fire that raged through the upper floors of the building where my daughter and son-in-love lived in Vancouver, the cause of the fire is still unknown.
It’s the unknown that continues to devastate the lives of many people.
Alexis told me yesterday about a mother who called her, crying. She is desperate. Her 13 year old daughter is supposed to return to school today but they have no home, no clothes, no money. The disaster relief supports have run out and she does not know where to go, what to do.
Disaster does that.
In the heat of the moment, we run to support those affected. On the day of the fire neighbours brought sandwiches, coffee, baby-strollers for those like my daughter who picked up her son in her arms and ran.
Six days later, Alexis and her family are finding their ground. They’ve made a list of things they need to do to get their lives back in order. They’ve even found a home to rent that will suit them even better than the apartment where they were.
And still, the emotional impact of the fire resonates.
“I want to help that mother so desperately,” she said. “But I don’t know what to do.”
Yet, even in her not knowing, her need to help those whose lives were gutted by the fire compelled her to build a Go Fund Me page to support those who lost everything. She’s setting up a committee to ensure the funds are distributed to those who need it most.
As she says in a CTV news story, ‘there are seniors in the building who have lived there for 30 years.’ Many have pets and are grateful their pets got out alive, but where will they go in a city where rents keep escalating and their fixed incomes don’t.
In the ebb and flow of life, disasters leave us awash in emotions. We fight hard to cope, maintain our equilibrium and still the emotions are there as we struggle to understand the unnamed feelings disaster awakens.
For my daughter, the loss of so many things that were the substance of her life, particularly for her young son, triggers memories of a time when she was a teenager and we lost everything we owned.
In our case it was a man-made disaster of a relationship I had with a man who tore into our lives with the ferocity of a tornado and ripped the ground out from beneath our feet. In that situation, all our belongings were in storage that he promised was being paid, but wasn’t. When many months later he was arrested, I had 72 cents in my pocket. In my emotionally fragile state, I couldn’t conceive of how I would pay the back rent on the storage and in my haste to let go of the past, let everything go to auction. For my daughters it was devastating. Their favourite clothes, toys, photos, memorabilia. Gone.
The fire last week pulled the trigger on some of those memories. For all of us.
For me, it is the feeling of helplessness, of being overwhelmed of not knowing how to fix what I had broken. I want to protect my daughter from the pain. To race to her side to shield her from the hurt even though she is safe, surrounded by people who love her and able to rebuild her life with her husband and son in the face of this disaster because they did have insurance and they have family they can stay with.
For my daughter, the memories and trigger are different, their impact harsher. She was a 16 year old. She didn’t have a voice.
Now she does.
I am so proud of how she is turning that wound from the past into action today. How the wisdom she has gained through losing everything is compelling her to do something to support those for whom this loss is rippling through their bodies and minds in a tsunami of fear and grief, sorrow and despair.
We cannot change the past. We can use its wounds to fuel what we do today to help others. Or, as Oprah famously said, ‘turn your wounds to wisdom.’
Alexis is wise. In the face of this disaster, she is taking action on behalf of those who cannot to help heal her wounds and the wounds of others.
I am posting the link to the Go Fund Me page in recognition that not everyone has the means to help strangers, and some of us do.
For me, I donated because I want to support my daughter and because I know what it’s like to face a disaster and feel broken beneath its weight. Years ago, when I came out of the hell of that relationship, there was only one thing I could afford to do — volunteer. And so I did. Every Tuesday I made sandwiches with a church group that we then took down to the east end of Vancouver for those for whom homelessness and addictions ravaged their lives.
This is what I can do today. Speak up. Let other’s know. Donate and invite others to join me if they can.
Giving is receiving.
Even if you can’t give financially, please consider saying a prayer or blessing to help ease the road of those for whom the way is dark. As they struggle to rebuild their lives, they need our support however we can give it.