(Just a heads up – this post contains both graphic scenes and overly-sentimental musings that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Consider yourself warned…)
On August 1st, 2010, shortly after midnight in the wee hours of the night, I woke up to pounding on my front door. Immediately in panic mode, several things registered all at once – the sounds of sirens too close by for comfort, the yells of the firefighters standing on my doorstep and one of the most awful smells I’ve ever experienced.
I grabbed my glasses and my robe and damn near sprinted down the stairs to the door, where the firefighters told me the condo next door was on fire, and that I had to get out immediately. Still waking up and processing everything that was going on, I begged them for a few minutes – time to round up the cats, my laptop and the important documents from our file cabinet. There wasn’t time, they said – for my own safety, I had to get out right away.
So I stood outside in the grass, alongside my neighbors, as we watched them extinguish the fire in the neighboring condo’s kitchen – the wall we shared with that unit – not knowing how much damage had been done to my unit, or whether the cats were still alive inside. And we watched as the firefighters carried out my badly burned neighbor, only later putting together that she had passed away when we realized that no ambulances had taken off from our parking lot.
Eventually, the fire was put out and I was allowed back inside to gather a few personal effects. The cats were scared, but alive, and even the Fire Marshall was amazed to discover that the only damage to my unit was four holes in the kitchen where the firefighters’ pick axes had come through – even though the condo next door was a total loss. I had some minor smoke inhalation issues from the fumes that had seeped through to our unit, but otherwise, I was safe and alive.
But despite what was truly a terrifying night, the hardest part to cope with was the story of how the fire started that was pieced together that night. The official cause of the fire was determined to be unattended cooking – food left cooking in the oven while my neighbor took a nap. But the scary part is that there were no working fire alarms in my neighbor’s unit.
The only reason the fire had been caught as quickly as it had been was that another neighbor came home from work at precisely the right moment to see flames in the kitchen through the patio door – before the fire had grown large enough to vent itself by breaking the windows or to begin spreading to other units. If he had been even a few minutes later, it’s likely that my injuries – as well as the damage to our house and the other condos in our building – would have been much more severe.
A few minutes could have been something as simple as getting a green traffic light instead of a red one. Going straight home after a shift instead of choosing to chat with a co-worker for a few minutes. Even parking in a different lot in our association could have made the difference between me and my home being safe and a significantly worse outcome.
Coming that close to death is a lot to process. To be honest, I still don’t know how I managed to go to work that week, write thank you cards for the gifts we’d received at our wedding the week before or take dance classes like normal. I do vividly remember the bottle of champagne my husband and I split when we were finally allowed back in for good the next afternoon, as well as the stuffed crust pizza we shared with the firefighters who were still on the scene, trying to keep the news cameras from filming in our patio door.
But reflecting back on the experience a year later, there’s one thing I take from it – that there really, truly will not be a better time to live a life that you love than right now. There are lots of things we can do to reduce our risk of dying (fruits, vegetables and regular exercise – I’m looking at you!), but there are also plenty of factors outside of our control.
It sucks, but you could get hit by a car tomorrow. You could be involved in a natural disaster. Heck, you could even get hit by a flaming toilet seat falling from a space station (and anyone who gets that reference, you’re my new best friend…).
Don’t let that realization paralyze you – let it empower you. You only have a certain amount of time on this planet, so let that time be as amazing as it can be. Fill it with meaningful work, projects that matter to you, gut-busting laughter and the people you love.
On the one year anniversary of one of the hardest days of my life, I’m going to spend the day writing content and developing websites, because I truly love the work I do with my online business. I’m going to do my weekly Meals on Wheels route, because I believe in karma and the power of giving back to a community that has given me so much. And I’m going to grill out tonight with my wonderful husband and great friends while we celebrate this beautiful weather with a few beers and some good company.
And if, in the ultimate display of irony, I were to die later tonight, I’ll be able to say that I’m truly grateful for the life I was privileged to live. And I hope that all of you are able to find the peace, love, strength and courage to do the same (and, obviously, that it doesn’t take a near death experience for you all to get there).
Thanks, as always, for listening to me ramble, and for your continued support of Common Sense Marketing. 🙂