I like dark comedy. A lot.
So I tried to write something funny about the house fire we had in January.
Gave it the old college try, as they say. Whoever they are.
And the truth is that we have laughed. More than once.
– About the call we received that day from the firewood guy saying he couldn’t deliver our shipment. “I don’t know if you realize this, but your entire street is blocked by fire trucks.” (We were expecting a half-cord of wood when the flames broke out. Hilarious, right?)
– About the bill for the first of several payments on the BRAND NEW BRAKES we’d bought:
(Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. It’s classic!)
Surely a sharper writer could slay a post on the humor that ensues when a family of four (plus two dogs and a guinea pig) are unexpectedly displaced from their home for days, weeks, months. Half a year.
I guess I’m still too tired. Or not tired enough.
But there is a story from that day that haunts me, Scrooge-style. One I feel compelled to share today. I call it A Tale of Two Sirens. Naturally.
Because who doesn’t love Charles Dickens? Besides, of course my 15-year-old son. Nevertheless.
It was best of times, it was the worst of timing.
The afternoon of the fire, Bill had gone for a run, uncharacteristically taking his phone along. (In case the wood guy calls!) When the smoke and flames erupted in our garage, he was on the trails unaware of the drama unfolding at home.
Until our daughter Karly called his cell.
He couldn’t understand her hysterical words. Something about a fire. About our house. Bill began to sprint home hoping he’d misunderstood. Surely we were fine and he’d return to discover I had the situation under control.
Unfortunately, I didn’t. Have the situation under control, I mean.
By the time Karly made her call, I’d surrendered to the inevitable. Our home was burning and I was the adult in charge. The one orchestrating the rescue of our dogs. The one allowing flames and smoke to spread while I struggled to keep everyone safe.
I didn’t want to be in charge, though.
Although the minutes seemed to crawl in my head and heart, the fire department responded quickly and it wasn’t long before I caught the first faint sounds of sirens coming toward us. Like music to my ears. Our salvation.
At the same time, Bill also heard the sirens. For him, the sound confirmed his deepest fears. His family was – quite possibly – in danger and he was a mile away on foot.
I fought tears of relief; he tried not to vomit in terror. The rest of the story doesn’t matter. Not today.
What strikes me is the truth about two people interpreting the same information oppositely. Bill and I are both intelligent and caring. Well-intentioned. Conscientious. And yet.
While I heard the sirens as a blessing, they signaled to him a horror beyond his control.
At the time, no one could’ve convinced us we were wrong; and now I find myself considering other issues we, as a society, debate. Staunch in our convictions, we listen to the same speech but hear it differently. We read the same words, yet the conclusions we draw diverge.
On the economy. Religion. With sex, gender, love and marriage. On public education. Gun control. The environment. And health care. What constitutes good parenting.
Wouldn’t it be helpful if – rather than condemning each other – we assumed most human beings have strong opinions for a reason? That where reason fails, emotion takes its place?
Instead, we dash off wicked remarks, hide behind anonymous comments, spread misinformation with our sweeping generalizations. We do not offer the benefit of the doubt; we highlight maliciousness and ignorance. Instead of requesting clarification, we claim the other side must be selfish or insane.
Perhaps some of us are, in fact, crazy. Ignorant. Even malevolent.
But a difference of opinion doesn’t make this so.
We can be passionate about ideals, driven to effect change, angry when the issue moves us; but when we engage in vitriol and debasement, we lose the message in the noise.
We risk amassing an army that’s fighting an entirely different battle than we intended.
Society may never reach consensus on controversial subjects; but as individuals, we can resist the urge to blame and criticize. To claim our opponents don’t care about their families. Their country. Our world. We can treat each other with respect, not rudeness.
Less violence, more compassion.
That’s how we give our voices strength, how we lend meaning to the tenets we embrace.
And therefore, going forward – in both my words and deeds – I promise this:
If you can listen to my opinions without cruel words or judgment, I will do the same for you.
Even when I’m sure that I am right.