There have been at least two times in my life that I have been blessed with not so random acts of kindness that I can honestly say affected the rest of my life. Today, I’ll tell you about the first one.
It was a cold December weekend morning and I had promised my 7-year-old daughter the night before that we would wake up and put up the Christmas tree. That morning she ran into the bedroom as her father & I were still sleeping, and chirped “Mommy, Daddy, when are we putting up the tree?” the excitement was pouring out of her. I, on the other hand, was still sleeping when she crossed the threshold to our room. I, still half asleep, told her to give us a few minutes more to wake up. She then pitter-patted back down the stairs to watch her morning cartoons while I unintentionally drifted back off to sleep.
Very soon after that, her father & I were awakened by a big BOOM. Startled, I sat up and asked “What the Hell was that?” My husband guessed it was from outside, someone had dropped something big, like a trash truck dropping a dumpster or something. Figuring he was probably right, I started to relax but only seconds later, the smoke alarm started screaming and immediately we knew the boom had been no dumpster. My husband flew out of bed and down the stairs, he was going so quickly, I don’t think he touched a stair on the way down. When he reached the bottom of the stairs he could see that there were flames licking the ceiling, streaming out of the utility room, across the kitchen, and into the dining room. Our oldest daughter was in the living room unharmed. He scooped her up as he screamed up the stairs, “Get Out! Theres a fire!”
I always liked to think of myself as the mostly calm, level-headed one who would know what to do in the case of an emergency but there I was, walking around in circles in my bedroom trying to figure out what to do next while an unseen fire was creeping across the floor under me. After a few seconds my panicked brain cells started to work together and I threw on a robe and bolted out of the bedroom toward the stairs. As I exited our bedroom, my youngest daughter, our 3-year-old, waddled out of her bedroom rubbing her sleepy eyes. I had assumed the whole time that she was all ready downstairs with her sister watching their morning cartoons, if it hadn’t been for my few seconds of walking around in circles, I’m not sure I would have had the where with all to check the bedroom for my baby. I scooped her up as I flew down the stairs and outside to the parking lot and our car.
It was a cold frosty morning and none of us had shoes on, nor the keys to our car. My husband was banging on the door to our neighbors and one at the far end was awake and let our daughters in as his condo was out of danger at the current moment. Not much time had passed at this point although it seemed to be moving so very slowly. After we knew our children were in safe hands, we rushed back into the condo to grab car keys and anything else we could. The smoke was all ready getting thick. Luckily my purse was near the door and I grabbed it, my shoes and the girls shoes and we got out. Neighbors had called 911 and we stood there, looking at our home feeling helpless. At one point my husband tried to go back inside to save more stuff but as he opened the door a cloud of extremely thick black smoke bellowed out and he closed the door in surrender.
There were many things that then happened, firemen, neighbors, family all arriving, hugging, supporting. My parents took the girls to their house as we stood by. The fire department put out the flames fairly quickly. A faulty furnace ignition switch had ignited small explosion in the condo we were renting. We had no renters insurance because “For goodness sakes, nothing like that would ever happen to us”! Ah yes, we were young and naive.
If you’ve ever had a fire you’ll never forget the smell that permeates everything. It’s a strong, offensive odor that tickles the back of your throat and clings to everything you may still own. Walking through the aftermath was so surreal and sobering. Tears streamed down my face as I looked upon belongings that just an hour or so before we had relied on but were now either scorched or covered in a thick black soot. At the same time, I was ever so grateful that my loved ones were still safe and physically untouched. It could have been worse. Life can change in an instant.
We temporarily moved in with my mom and dad and as I sent my oldest to school the next Monday with a grocery bag for a book bag, I wrote her teacher a note explaining what had happened and asked her to be understanding if my daughter was a bit out of sorts or more talkative than her usual chatty self. During the next week, I took an attitude that was very usual for me to take back then, “Why me?” I was feeling very sorry for myself and my family and started sinking into a depressed state.
What happened next, I will never forget.
My daughters teacher organized a fund-raiser for us. I didn’t want charity, it was our fault we didn’t have renters insurance. I was willing to take that responsibility even though I didn’t know how we were going to do it. I didn’t have to though. Just a week or so after this, my brother-in-law took his large passenger van up to the school not once, but twice to load up donations that poured in. As I sat with my mother and went through them, tears once again streamed down my face. There were Christmas presents and notes and checks and wishes of hope and good things for my tiny little family from people we didn’t know. There were baskets from the girl scouts & boy scouts filled with the little things you don’t think about losing in a fire like tooth brushes and tooth paste. There were checks from underpaid teachers for not huge amounts, but surely more than they could easily afford during the holiday season.
Let me tell you one thing I know for sure. The things we received meant nothing and everything all at the same time. What could I possibly mean by that? Well, the material things were not what touched me as much as the thought, the concern and the sacrifice given to my family by way of these ‘things’. This act of kindness made my heart swell and my spirit so very grateful. It has touched me forever, not just for that day, that week, that year.
It has touched my spirit FOREVER.
The sense of humanity, community and the larger family hit home at that moment.
How has a random act of kindness affected you as a participant, whichever side you were on?