Last night tragedy struck in our neighborhood when our next door neighbor's home was destroyed by fire. It was around 11:30 p.m. when the we heard the first sirens. Ultimately, there were five or six firetrucks out front, and we saw huddled figures in cars, where Elmo and Lucille sat with their son watching the devastation of their home. I can imagine few things more devastating than watching your possessions thrown out windows in a vain attempt to keep the fire from finding more fuel. The sound of axes crushing walls in search of the offending spark, and the acrid smell of smoke snaking into the night sky.
We did what we could as good neighbors. Offered safe haven, blankets, water, coffee. But, Elmo and Lucille needed little more than to huddle together in the womb-like warmth of their Ford, their watchful eyes squinting against the onslaught of smoke.
Miss B., our more pyro-phobic child, slept soundly through the ordeal, despite the fact that her window faced the lights of the firetrucks. But, R., Miss T. and I sat in the library watching the drama unfold as the night progressed. It seemed impossible to sleep.
After the first trucks pulled away, and Elmo and Lucille were left with only a few soot-covered firefighters rolling hoses and carrying out mattresses, R. went out to check again on whether they needed anything. They were leaving to stay in a motel, they were shocked--but fine. They thanked us.
Miss T. and I watched from the window as R. talked with them. T. said, "That's it? The firetrucks are leaving? What do Elmo and Lucille do now? They're just standing out there! And they can't go back in the house!" I explained that they would sleep elsewhere tonight. And T. said, "I know, but where are the chaplains? Don't they come in to help now?"
I could have kissed her on the lips. She understands my job. We've taught her well.
When I got home from work today, Elmo was standing in his driveway near a mangled pile of his blackened furniture and drywall. I stopped and said, "I'm so sorry, Elmo. I don't even know what to offer to do for you...just know that anything you need, we're happy to help with." Elmo shielded his face from the bright afternoon sun and said, "You know, we're blessed. My family is fine. That's all I needed."
Oh that we might all learn from Elmo's wisdom this year at Christmas. Oh, that I might ponder all of this in my own fragile heart.