NYC Fire Victim: Counting Your Blessings When You Lose Everything

People wait in their apartments as firefighters battle a large fire on the top floors of an apartment building in New York City's Harlem neighborhood, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. The Fire Department of New York says over a hundred firefighters were at the scene. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

We are a society that values and cherishes stuff. Things. Memories. Ask any household in America and I bet they would say they wish they could get rid of some, but the memories they have stored away are so much more important than more space. You don’t really realize how important these things are to you until they are taken from you, sometimes unexpectedly and harshly.

The recent six-alarm fire in New York City in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood did just that to me; I watched from afar as my building, and my things, and my memories from a lifetime of collecting, were burned and washed away.  It is one thing to value the things you have kept; it is another to be forced to reckon with the things you have lost and now have left.

I was devastated when the news came that my home was now uninhabitable. Thankfully I am safe, as are all my roommates and other tenants in the building, but we lost everything. It is a feeling I have never experienced before, a sort of hollowing out of yourself. I was numb, unable to believe that the things I had surrounded myself with, a protective cocoon of memories and love, could be gone forever. My childhood collection of Calvin and Hobbes; a photo of my beloved grandmother, Mimi. Things that I thought I would never lose and would never have to account for not having as a presence in my life.  

But, in a bit of surreal timing, it happened right before Thanksgiving. I am home, surrounded by my closest loved ones, nieces and nephews that shower me with love, and am aware of how blessed I am. 

The outpouring of support has been overwhelming. One of my best friends started a fundraiser for us and I am, at this very moment, wearing a donated sweater from a network of moms in Brooklyn, organized by a friend, that responded like a critical response unit to this tragedy and as they have done so for other people in times of need.

The Red Cross has been a blessing, present and responsive, pointing us in the direction of housing assistance, providing us with emergency funds for necessities, and assuring us they would see us all the way through the process into a new living situation. 

City Council member Mark Levine, representative to District 7, hosted a dinner in order to give everyone a warm meal, aware of how close to the holidays this was and how that would hit home for many particularly hard. The Public Advocate’s office distributed care packages to people from the community. 

In a particular instance that deserves praise, a firefighter passing by from Ladder 48 helped us as best he could to get us back into the building, my roommate desperately needing his ID to travel home for Christmas.

In every one of these instances, people have shown that no matter our credo, no matter our ethnicity, they were willing to extend a helping hand, stretch their already scarce resources, to accommodate those in need. 

These moments of love and support from people, some I haven’t heard from in years, has been one of the purest examples of love and gratitude I could imagine.

In each of the above examples, and I am sure there are countless more, people have put others before themselves. They have made sure that strangers are comforted in a harrowing time. 

The things we have in our lives, the stuff we buy and surround ourselves with can be whisked away in a blink of an eye. This holiday season, be thankful for the special people and connections you have in your life. Be appreciative, every day, of the wonderful blessing that is love and friendship.

Brennan Lowery is an actor currently on tour with the Education Theater’s production of Beauty and the Beast.

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