Our girlish chatter stopped mid sentence as the car turned the corner revealing two blocks of emergency vehicles blocking our turn onto my street. I muttered something unintelligible to my friend as I hopped out of the car still rolling to a stop. “Excuse me ma’am, who are you?” A police officer stopped me before I could step foot on my block, “I live on that block,” I didn’t wait for a response and pushed past the police office and into the street.
My son had been home while I was at a women’s ministry dinner, and the iPhone he keeps telling me is ancient had batteries long ago dead. My heart pounded in my ears…was it my house causing all of that smoke? Had my son been calling desperate for comfort or even worse help? Turning the corner I saw ghostly grey plumes of smoke rolling in my direction. I sighed with relief. It was not my home. My son was in the front yard, camera in hand, waiting for my return.
On the way to my house, I must have still looked ashen as a neighbor grabbed me and held me saying, “No, it’s not your house, thank God.” And my son greeted me with the irritation that only comes when worry builds and communication fails, “When are you going to get a new phone Mom? I’ve been trying to call you for an hour!” His arm wrapped around my shoulders.
Two of my old Home Bible study members ran onto the block with admonishments similar to my son’s as they had tried to reach me to see if I was alright but to no avail. Arms all tangled in tearful hugs of relief, our eyes could not peel from the glowing embers of what was once home to a single mom and her two young adult children.
It was difficult to sleep that night as blue and red flickered on my ceiling past four a.m. There were sounds of hammering and staple guns as they boarded up what was left of the house. And then I remembered, in the midst of my relief, that it is still my neighbor’s house destroyed. The one I had invited repeatedly to my ladies’ Bible study on Wednesday mornings, but who had never come. My relief meant that someone else was suffering.
It was real to them. It was their two dogs killed by inhaling that ghostly vapor. It was their baby pictures and favorite sweaters and grandma’s afghans that had been roasted and then soaked. It was their life that had gone up in smoke. I went to sleep relieved but I woke up ashamed. I was relieved to be untouched while my neighbors had been devastated.
Sometimes, when tragedy hits closest to home, in our gratitude we forget to be sympathetic. Sometimes it’s easier to sympathize with the Christians on the other side of the world than it is with our next door neighbors. I wonder why?
Could it be that in our love for what belongs to us we grasp too tightly unable to see anything beyond ourselves? Could it be that our own neighborhood sees when our lawn needs to be mowed and hears our teenager shout angry things through the summer open windows? Could it be that placing ourselves in our neighbors shoes demands hand to hand interaction in a social media world, and we just don’t want to get involved? Could it be that we don’t know how to answer the awkward questions of why, and so we avoid putting ourselves in the position of being asked to begin with?
It is true. I am grateful for angels protecting my home. But in publicly acknowledging their presence in my home am I telling my neighbor that they were absent from hers?
Human nature hates the messiness of these questions. We default to what is easy, and sometimes what is easy is to turn away. But this is when I want His nature to overcome mine. His nature stands with us in the middle of crisis, never leaving us. His nature doesn’t run from unhappy endings and headlines, but runs to the rescue, sits beside those who have lost. Prays for those who are hurting.
The house is boarded up now. An empty container of what once was a home. And though I’ve since reached out to them, they have not responded. I can only pray that they have found the Source of all comfort. And yes, I pray for the persecuted on the other sie of the world because what they are experiencing is unthinkable. But sometimes my neighbor’s tragedies are forced on my realities and I would rather shove the pain of it aside than make it thinkable. Maybe the truth is that I am afraid to feel their pain.
It’s easier to send a nice check to the starving and hurting than to sit quietly with my neighbor as she sorts through charred memories. Maybe when tragedy hits too close to home it hits too close to home.
…and I chronicle His grace here