Burning Red

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Photo Credit: http://fatale-trinity.deviantart.com/art/Flame-167648244

Burning Red
A true story of hope after disaster.

I remember the color red.

I was sleeping in my baby brother’s room because he hadn’t yet graduated from his fear of the boogie man, and still couldn’t manage to sleep without being wedged between my parents in their bed. My parents had remodeled his room, put a new quilt and sheets on his giant bed, and set up a lamp in the shape of a stoplight that cast a red-orange glow around the entire room. The room was originally a dining room that we had closed off to make into a bedroom, so it was connected to the kitchen. I liked that I could essentially roll out of bed and into the kitchen to make pancakes in the morning as I did every weekend. My own bedroom was all the way on the other side of the house. If my room hadn’t been bigger, I would have wanted to trade. But instead I just took over the room whenever I could.

This was one of those nights.

I had tied a rubber band around the bedroom doors to keep everyone out. My friend who lived three houses down from me was staying the night, but for reasons I can’t remember, I had abandoned her to play with my sister who also had a friend staying the night. I went to bed angry that night, the red sheets pulled over my head to block out the glow of the artificial stoplight.
Sometime during the night, it began to storm. 

I remember waking up and hearing the rain pounding against the windows. The sound was so loud I thought the windows might shatter. Was it hailing? I didn’t know, and I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and waited for the rain to slow down, but it only got worse.

During a tornado warning about a year before, my grandmother had showed me how to count the distance between lightening and thunder to determine how far away the storm was. We were allowed to climb out of the bathtub when we could count all the way to thirty.

This time, I couldn’t even count to one. The clap of thunder and the crack of lightening shook the house simultaneously with a force I felt rattle all the way up my spine. Seconds later, I heard the door to my parents bedroom across the hall open up.

“It hit something.” I heard my father say.

The chiming of the door alarm sounded when he opened the door, and for a moment the sound of the wind and the rain was unbearably loud. But then the door closed, wet footsteps sloshed through the hallway, and my parents’ bedroom door shut.

Rain. Silence. Thunder.

And then the phone ringing.

I slept with the phone right beside me. I had an irrational fear that somebody was going to come into the room and try to kidnap me, and I would need to call for help. So since we had caller ID, I could see who was calling, and was surprised that it belonged to the neighbor who lived across the street from the friend I had staying the night. I assumed it was the boy I loved to hate, my first crush, prank calling, but my father answered the phone before I could.

I didn’t hear the conversation, but I remember both my parents got up and went into my other little brother’s room, where my friend was sleeping. 

I got up when I heard the screaming.

“No, no no! This can’t be happening! This isn’t happening! NO, no, no! WHY?”

My friend was standing on our front porch watching her house burn down in flames. She had a blanket wrapped around her, and I remember she was crying, screaming, helpless.

I don’t know what caused the fire, though there was plenty of speculation. Perhaps the lightening struck an electrical socket, and the ensuing spark caught flame. Or maybe the lightening struck close enough to shake a candle off a nightstand. All that I know is that the fire started in the second-story bedroom that belonged to my friend’s older sister who was part of our friend group, but didn’t join the sleepover that night for some reason.

She saved her family instead.

The family of ten lost everything in the fire that night, but they didn’t lose each other. All ten family members were able to get out safely and call the fire department from the house across the street. And once the fire department was called, they called my house to make sure my friend was safe.

I remember my family walked my friend to the house across the street to reunite with her family. My most vivid memory of that night is standing on the front lawn, watching the two-story red brick house flickering in smoke and red-orange flames. I was soaked, rain was falling heavily and then softly, but I kept my barefeet in the grass, unable to tear my eyes away from the scene in front of me. I’d never seen fire so large before. I remember thinking that the flames might touch the house next to it, and then two houses would be burning.

But that didn’t happen. After many hours, the sun rose and the last flames were washed away by the rain and the tireless efforts of the fire department. The whole neighborhood seemed to have gathered at the house across the street, bringing clothes, food, necessities to the family who lost everything. The neighbors made a feast of pancakes, and the morning after a night of destruction a community of hope, help, and love was born.

Yes, there was fear and disaster. Tears were cried, and wails were released into the wind. But
there were also smiles and laughter and plenty of prayers. There was good will, and giving, and plans for a new beginning. There was hope.

But mostly there was love. 

For a long time the love was easy to forget. The family (and therefore my friends) moved away, but the smell of smoke, charred wood, and the rubble that was once their house remained. By the time the reconstruction started, my family made plans to move to a new city. The friendships faded with the distance, and the neighborhood was left behind, but I carried the memory of that night with me wherever I went.

But I only carried the fear.

I packed bags of all I couldn’t bear to lose every night, just in case. I became afraid of storms. Rain was unsafe. Thunder was terrifying. Lightening was life-shattering. I remained paralyzed by the sight of fire.

And with my paralyzing fear, I forgot the love. I forgot the purpose of tragedy is not to make sure it never happens again; it is to grow, to strengthen, to love.

Because life is not perfect; it’s completely unpredictable. We can spend every day of our lives trying to be prepared, but the greatest (and worst) events of our lives will still be the most unexpected.

Anything can happen, and everything will. There are storms at the same time there is sunshine, and there is night at the same day there is day. Babies are born at the same time a last breath is being taken, and a love story is just beginning at the same time another is ending.

Life and death. Good and bad. Destruction and construction. Love and fear. These things occur simultaneously every second of every day. Life is not just full of ups and downs; life is made of them.

So yes, tragedy will strike. We will experience death, bad days, disaster, and fear. But we will also experience good days, hope, life, laughter, and love.

So we can rest assured that no matter what shade of disaster burns through our lives, the sun will rise, the rain will stop falling, and the flames that destroyed everything will be gone. We will survive, and grow stronger than we were before. We will love harder, and laugh longer, and appreciate more.

Because everything is temporary, and nothing lasts forever. But there is always hope.

Hope for love.

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