This is a post about loss and riches. About tears despite immense gratitude. And about the kind of love for neighbor that binds us all together.
But first, let me tell you a story of how four little girls made a grown woman cry. It was two days after the fire, and Tom and I were on the way to the house—or what’s left of our house—to pick up our mail. On our way there, we passed our neighbor’s house, and his daughters had a cute little lemonade stand in front of their house.
I had heard about this lemonade stand from Tom the day before, and he told me he was too choked up then to do more than wave to them as he drove by. Feeling strong and in control, I said I would step out and talk to them. I wasn’t prepared for the impact of the simple sign they had in front of their stand.
I burst into tears, and with a shaky voice, I thanked them, asked to give each of them a hug, and then took their picture. I only had my cell phone camera on me, but this is one of those times when capturing the image is more important than worrying about depth of field and bokeh. I asked them for their names and made sure I spelled each one correctly. Arli, Jenna, Lauren, and Brittany, what you did touched me so deeply that until now, I can’t tell this story without my voice breaking.
There are so many emotions that go through me when I think about what happened and when I see the pile of rubble where our house used to be. Every time I remember the panic in Tom’s voice as he was screaming that Tim was still inside, unable to do anything because he was on crutches, it breaks my heart. I’ve never seen my husband look so desperately helpless.
The other day, Tim had asked if he could spend a few hours with some friends and just hang out a bit. Of course, we said yes. Then Tom asked him if he could please just not be out late and get back to the hotel early. When he said, “It’s just that right now, I feel uncomfortable when I don’t know where everybody is,” I realized that this fire has affected him in ways that I may never fully understand.
I know we’re fine. And I know that things will eventually get better, maybe even better than before. But sometimes, I still find myself tearing up for the smallest reasons. Like going to the grocery and then realizing I don’t even have my Shop-Rite card on me. Or wanting to log on to some silly online account and then remembering that I don’t have the post-it near my desk that had all my passwords. Or just seeing something that I want to photograph, or thinking I finally have time to play with a recipe I’ve been wanting to try out, except it was in a piece of paper stashed inside my binder of recipes. Or craving some of the mango ice cream that I just made two days before the fire. Simple things that I took for granted. Things that have little monetary value, but whose absence is a painful reminder of just how complete the loss is, and that “back to normal” is going to be easier said than done. By a long shot.
But still, in all this, we’re just immensely thankful that we’re not planning a funeral this week. Today at our Sunday worship, a dear friend who belongs to a neighboring congregation—not even our own—came up to us, gave each of us a big hug, and said: “Now. You will see just how big your family is.”
And then I have this amazing online community. Unbeknownst to me, my dear friends almost immediately put up their own online lemonade stand, and people, many of whom I didn’t even know, rallied to our aid with a speed that seemingly defies natural laws, and with a generosity that appears to have no bounds. All the heartfelt expressions of sympathy and comfort mean so much to us. I wish I could respond to every single one right now, but it will take some time. I hope you understand and know that, despite that delay, you have our deepest gratitude.
My family is safe. And my family is huge. It consists of my brothers and sisters in faith, countless people from my neighborhood, and it stretches around the world to all those who have opened up their hearts and have given us their support and prayers. And so even though we lost our home, I feel like in its place, we gained the largest circle of friends and family that anyone could ever imagine.