The following is a previously published column by BCR Senior Staff Writer Donna Barker.
My definition of terrible got changed on Saturday night.
I was just taking the dinner rolls out of my oven Saturday evening when I got a call from my associate editor saying there was a house fire near Tiskilwa. Because it was my weekend to work, I knew I needed to drive there and get some pictures for the paper.
After getting off the phone, I looked around my kitchen. The table was set, and dinner was ready to be served. We had company. Fortunately, our company was family members who I knew would understand if I had to leave. I told everyone to go ahead without me, and I would be back as soon as I could.
As I got in my car and headed toward Tiskilwa, I admit I kept thinking how terrible this evening was turning out for me. This fire thing had terrible timing, right at the start of my dinner time. It was terrible that I couldn’t stay home and enjoy being the hostess and enjoy my family. It was terrible, terrible, terrible.
As I got a few miles down the road, I looked across the sky toward Tiskilwa, and I could see the black smoke, way too much smoke to be from a little fire. I began to realize maybe this night wasn’t about me.
A few minutes later, I pulled back into the lane that led to the burning house. There were probably close to 10 fire trucks parked in the field in front of the house, and firefighters and hoses were everywhere. But what really drew my attention was the massive amount of smoke still pouring through the windows, doors and remaining walls of the two-story home. As I looked closer through the smoke, I could see pockets of flames burning from one corner of the house, and then another.
As I watched the scene before me, I realized this fire and this loss of home was the real definition of the word “terrible.” How could I ever have been so foolish and self-centered to get upset about a meal time, when just a few miles away another family was losing most everything they owned? Though I’ve been a senior citizen by AARP standards for several years, I decided it was time for me to grow up and realize again the world doesn’t revolve around me.
I stayed at the fire site for more than an hour. I got my pictures for the newspaper, but more than that, I got to witness some amazing people.
I watched the firefighters working with determination and selflessness. I wondered what their evening plans had been, especially those of the volunteer firefighters, before they got the emergency call. Whatever those plans might have been, they were placed aside while the firefighters did their job.
And then I watched the gentleman who lived in the burning house, as he put his arm around his wife, and they watched together as their house burned. I was overwhelmed with their strength and calm. Later, I saw the man walk up to several firefighters and shake their hands.
I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have one-tenth of that couple’s gentleness and strength if it were my home burning.
A short time later, I walked back across the field to my car and drove away from the fire scene. Looking back, the flames and smoke were still visible at the house. The firefighters, the family and their neighbors were, of course, still there. There was no escaping the reality of the situation for them.
As I drove through Tiskilwa, I pulled off on a side street to text my family that I was on my way home. I noticed a woman in her yard and realized it was Lori Compton, director of the Bureau County Red Cross. She was making arrangements for food to be taken to the firefighters. I smiled and waved, thankful for one more example of neighbors helping neighbors in time of trouble.
Coming through Tiskilwa, I noticed the message on the Tiskilwa Community Association sign board at the West End Park. The message said “Life Shrinks or Expands in Proportion to One’s Courage.”
Reading the sign, I thought about the fire scene I had just left and of all the examples of courage I had witnessed in the family and the firefighters.
I also thought about the word terrible, and how I hopefully won’t use that word again unless the situation truly merits it.
BCR Senior Staff Writer Donna Barker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.