Most of us go through life lulled into complacency by the monotony of a daily routine. We believe that today will be much like yesterday and we thus feel secure in the continuity of our existence. The truth is that we are surrounded by chaos and uncertainty, and the security that we feel is an illusion. When our life trajectory intersects with that chaos, it can change our lives in an instant.
Last Monday I drove to Birmingham. It was a grueling battle against Memorial Day traffic delays and bad weather, so it took nearly an hour longer than it usually does. Worn out by the intense concentration of driving, and with my body still protesting from a weekend of yard work, I just wanted to get to my apartment and relax. But suddenly, all my fatigue instantly vanished.
I live high up on the side of Red Mountain and my route takes me along the highest road. One spot normally offers a beautiful view of downtown Birmingham, but as I passed the overlook around 3:00 pm, the city view was obscured by dark, billowing smoke coming from the vicinity of my apartment complex. With my heart in my throat, I raced to make the turn into the alley that provides access to my parking area. Attached to the fire hydrant on the corner was a mile of yellow fire hose snaking its way towards the tower of smoke. As I made the turn into the alley, a great sense of relief washed over me when I could finally see that the fire was just past where I live.
As I made my way towards the scene of the fire, the sadness of the situation replaced my feeling of relief. In the end, the fire destroyed 21 apartment units at Chalet Apartments, disrupting the lives of 21 tenants in an instant. One man had just returned from his father’s funeral. A young woman who worked for the police department had lived there for a year and it was her first home. A single mom and her daughter were sharing an apartment with her best friend. A brother and sister lived there while working their way through college. All of them lost their homes and all of their possessions. Life changed.
Fortunately, the only reported injury was a man treated for smoke inhalation. The fire started around 2:30 pm, and thankfully, due to the holiday weekend and summer break for college students, many tenants were not at home at the time of the disaster. It is possible that there are still tenants that do not yet know about the fire and the impact it will have on their lives. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but they believe it to be an accident. What we do know is that somewhere in the timeline of that day, a single event in a single moment started a chain reaction of events that ended in catastrophe for so many families.
It is pointless to live in fear of the chaos and uncertainty that surround us. After all, we are only specks on a slightly larger speck, hurling through the galaxy at 2.7 million miles per hour. It is equally foolish to be oblivious to our environment and to live life as if we are somehow insulated from harm. Daily headlines of fires, cancer, floods, car crashes, hurricanes, strokes, tornadoes, heart attacks, shootings, etc. are a constant reminder of the frailty of life. So, what should we do? Cherish life, love your family, appreciate what you have, and help your neighbors. Live in the moment because life can change in a moment.