My wife Momo and I were enjoying dinner with my mom and some relatives I rarely see. We were looking forward all of last Monday to ending our first day back from vacation with a laid back dinner with people we love. Then Momo’s phone rang.
A neighbor in our Chamblee condo complex said that the building was on fire. She said she was in the unit below the fire and she needed help corralling her two cats and evacuating. Momo and I were about 15 minutes away, driving.
We all know how neighborhood gossip turns candles into nuclear fallouts. A fire alarm and a multi-building blaze are very different things. So we waited a moment to triple-check and make sure this fire was legitimate, before dining and dashing on our family. It was.
The neighbor that called Momo wasn’t dealing with fire. She was dealing with water from her upstairs neighbor’s sprinklers, which we learned while we drove down LaVista Road and back to what we hoped was still our home. I had just gotten done telling Momo to remain calm and that there was nothing we could control.
“Trust God, it is in His hands.”
Then the thought of our condo flooding because of a neighbor’s small fire four building’s away crossed my mind. “How ridiculous! How terrible! How inconvenient!” I thought. I cursed loudly after completing that seemingly astute assessment.
Then Momo snapped me back into reality, basically saying, “People are potentially losing their homes and animals and you are worried about our stuff. Don’t be so selfish!”
A firehose worth of reality, practicality, and empathy from my wise, loving wife brought me right back to reality. What a hypocrite I was.
We arrived to find that the fire had been contained to the one unit - a kitchen fire - and that one hallway was smoky and wet after DeKalb Fire’s valiant and quick efforts to control the blaze. Water damage also displaced the downstairs neighbor who called Momo. That was it. But that was a lot.
While both me on the short car ride and some neighbors afterwards complained about being inconvenienced, these two people in these two condos - and their pets - saw their lives change in minutes. They survived, but they went through a life-changing tragedy.
They lost their homes, albeit temporarily. Anyone who has ever been burgled or evacuated or dealt with fire knows how unsettling and stressful these occurrences are. Inconvenience pales in comparison to the devastation of this tumult.
After my outburst, I immediately thought that I needed to write this for this week’s column. I quickly thought about how flip I am in talking about crashes while reporting on them: “Ugh. Another one? We are so busy! What idiots wrecked this time?” I reflected on the times that I have been apoplectic behind the wheel, when stuck behind someone else’s crash or stall. I considered how many other people are the same - maybe everyone.
I am willing to bet that almost every driver can name every crash they were in or how many times their vehicle stranded them, no matter the severity. As often as wrecks plague the Atlanta roads, they only happen to singular people just a few times in a lifetime, sometimes never. They are morbidly monumental. Wrecks and stalls are scary, expensive, painful, and sometimes fatal.
Crashes freak out the people in them even more so than the angered drivers delayed by them.
We shouldn’t feel overly guilty about getting angry when we get inconvenienced by someone else’s tragedy. Getting tripped up unexpectedly does not exactly make anyone warm on the inside. But as we (me) clench our fists and invent new cuss words, maybe we could abate that reaction with a thought for the poor sap that nailed the wall or the driver whose old horse finally keeled over in the right lane.
This may sound like some lecture our parents gave us during a teenage tantrum some years ago, but the notion hit my wife and me hard last Monday night. Two of our neighbors temporarily lost their homes and my worst, selfish, ugly side was the first one to flash its teeth.
Inconvenient as it was, Momo and I also ended up watching our neighbor’s cats for a night, in addition to our own brood, while our displaced friend figured out her accomodations for the next months. Another neighbor let her crash with them for the night.
Tragedies are horrible, but good things do come out of them: charity and perspective. Thank God for those lessons and I pray for more patience going forward - especially in traffic.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.
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