A Tale of Two Sirens

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:

fire 10

(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 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.

fire 8

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.

Last Modified on February 4, 2016
This entry was posted in Life
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48 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Sirens

  1. Oh now, you’re getting the standing ovation from me.

    A – What a great way to round about a story. Damn, writer much?
    B – How emotional was that first part? Just raw, I loved it.
    C- Why can’t people just listen but also maybe change their minds just a little, because really, I AM right?

    I don’t know why the art of having an opinion often means obliterating someone for having one of their own. Humans are the brightest of species, despite their opinions of themselves.

  2. Lori Dyan

    You are amazing. Your words always move me to laughter and tears, often in the same sentence. You and your family are in my thoughts more than you can imagine. Be well…

  3. Kir

    Oh Julie!! WOW.
    In the last few years, I have understood (now more than ever) that every story (good or bad) has 3 sides and to see all those sides, to understand each aspect is the sign of a caring community. WE don’t always have to be right, but we do have to be kind. We must listen.

    As always, I come here for a grounding and a perspective that settles on my heart. Right or Wrong, I read your words and came away better.

    thinking of you and your family..always.

  4. You know – it wasn’t too long ago that I said something truly stupid in the comments of a blog. Someone had written a piece about reading a piece…no names were mentioned, no links were provided; Well, I misread the piece that I read, and the person who read the piece I read didn’t like what the piece that had had read was saying, and I said something stupid.

    Is that convoluted enough?

    What pisses me off about my own actions are, if I had taken 10 minutes to do the research, and to read the original piece, I’d have seen that there was cause for legitimate debate. But, I threw that out by flinging feces — because, really, the call for civilized debate about any issue goes out the door once feces start to fly.

    This is one of the things that I love most about Jon Stewart — he can vehemently disagree about a subject, but still keep the debate “above the waist” (which, coincidentally, is how I prefer to have my picture taken). Sure, it might be his show, so it’s his rules, but he won’t shy away from someone arguing against what he believes, and he’ll refrain from resorting to name calling, even when you see that he’s itching to do it.

    Anyway – I’m glad to see that “the funny” is actually part of your mind . . . as my grandfather always said “only worry about me when I can’t try to laugh at something.” That you’re trying to find the funny means, I think, that you’re recovering. Or that I’m a shitty internet psychiatrist. One or the other.

  5. And this… is but one of the many reasons I love you.


    Also? I cannot help but chuckle about your son and Dickens…

  6. This post here?
    This is why you cannot leave the Internet, ever.
    Miss you.
    Also? Still so very sorry for your home.

  7. You’re hot..in every single way possible..you know that, right? That is not debatable.

  8. I love this so very much I am actually commenting from my phone instead of just reading as usual .. damn feeds make it all so impersonal. But I love this post so very much, it is so very perfectly you. Just want to hug you xxxx

  9. There were sparks of humor in there (no pun intended at first), but this issue is too important to couch in any other voice than sincerity.

    And I agree with Alison up there.


  10. Di

    Only you, Julie, could turn a humorous posting about your horror into an insightful, thoughtful, heartfelt and philosophical piece that causes us all to pause and reflect on ourselves. Thank you for this and thank you, most of all, for our friendship. XXXOOO

  11. Sherri

    How do you do this? Every stinking thing you write is powerful and makes me want to read it twice. To make sure I didn’t miss a nuance or a joke.

    This is lovely, and while this experience has been hard, I am so glad it is turning out OK. xoxo

  12. Oh my goodness, Julie, I didn’t realize any of this happened to you and your family! My breath was held as I read it. I am so sorry that this happened to you guys. So terrible. Your words, though, are beautiful. You have such wisdom. You make so many excellent points. I pray that life gets easier soon!

  13. gigi

    I love how you wove together the story of your fire with the current societal debates raging. It’s so true. We read the same things, interpret them differently.

    I believe we have to learn to give each other the benefit of the doubt.I wrote about it, from a different angle, a couple weeks ago…I think you commented on the post. It’s so important to trust that people have good intentions, no matter what their beliefs. Without that, we’re surely doomed.

  14. Wait? I don’t know if you can always be right, because I’m pretty sure I’m always right…

    Kidding, of course. And maybe you haven’t written the funny story yet, but this is an important one. I try so hard to remember that in the end, the very great majority of people out there simply want what I want: a safe, secure world for the people they love. And now I just need to hope I can have the grace to remember that in the heat of the moment, because not everyone has the same perspective I do, and that doesn’t mean I am 100% right. 98%, yes, 100% no 😉

  15. Raging fire, raging debates interspersed with dark chuckles. It’s perfect. If we would only listen to one another, respect that her thoughts, his thoughts, their thoughts, all originate from a place of caring, regardless of how we come to the conclusions we do, would help. It is a skill, you know: being able to know you’re right and still respectfully listen to another person’s thoughts?

  16. What a fantstic way to illustrate your point! Because you’re right. 🙂

  17. Love every bit of what you’re saying here. You’re so right. And glad to see you here checking in. You know your fans (I’m in the top ten at least, right?) miss you but understand you’re literally rebuilding.

    Thinking about you all the time! Nina 🙂

  18. Um… you certainly do not need to be a sharper writer Julie – you rocked this like you rock everything you write… HARD!

    This made me laugh and made me cry and made me love you even more – which I didn’t even think was possible! xoxo

  19. Pop

    The moral of the story? Don’t go for runs. 😛

    “Even when I’m sure that I am right.” Sadly for me, I’m often pretty darn sure I am wrong.

    I’ve missed your affective writing so!

  20. I love you so much. I am so inspired by you, and I want to rise to the challenge!

    I hope someday the whole “house burning down thing” will be funny. I’m just still glad you are all okay. Geesh.

  21. Eric

    Dear Julie,

    I am overwhelmed. As a manager at a large store open to the public I am used to being the adult in charge and unfazed by seizures, floods, handguns, whatever. But thinking about being the adult in charge of my little family and thinking about your fire moves me beyond words. I hope I will keep it together if love and emergency ever collide in my life. I look forward (you know what I mean) to read more of your processing the fire in the future. It is such a signpost that will always be in the memory of your life.


  22. I’ve been holding my breath, waiting for a post about you, about the fire. This was exactly what I needed. But we all needed. We needed to know — all of us — that you and your family are okay. Thank you for showing up and letting us know you still have it. Even if you lost some of it.

  23. As I’ve learned through my career and day-to-day life, it’s all what’s behind the comments. It’s very rarely the comments themselves.

    That said, I really, really, REALLY hope your contractors/restoration folk are ahead of schedule, and so glad AGAIN that everyone is okay.

  24. A to the men. Love you. You said it oh so well. And I bet your milkshake brings all the boys to the yard 😉

  25. Kari Marie White

    Amen, Julie, Amen.

    I love this post. I hate that your family had such a frightening experience. Hugs to you.

  26. But this would be hard. Really hard. Hard to think about the motives behind stinging words, the life experiences, faith, pain that cause people to say terrible things. It’s so much easier to say mean things back.

    At least, that’s what most of us teach our children when we behave this way.

    I hope I can be better. Thank you.

  27. After reading your writing, I am always left staring at this little box feeling like I need to write something fascinatingly “English teacher”.

    But what I am left with is this: I miss you. I am glad you are around out there. I miss you. I love your writing. I love the way you say things just so. I miss you.

    I hope you are well, my friend.

  28. This is a great message, Julie. What a wonderful way to use your own tragedy to help others. We do miss you! Take care.

  29. france

    Powerful post Julie. Still can’t believe you had to go throw through all that. So glad no one was hurt. XOXO to you and your family.

  30. What an incredible piece of writing, Julie. This one went right to the core of me. You are a beautiful soul. I ache for what happened to you and your family. I’m inspired by your courage and humor. Your chutzpah.
    Much, much love to you.

  31. I love this so much. xoxo

  32. Wonderful post, rounded out beautifully. And I imagine it WOULD be hard to write something so personal and scary with humor. Maybe in a few years. 🙂

  33. Well said. Written. Whatever. You know what I mean.

  34. Julie, you still managed to give me something to smile about, even while I am aching to hold your family close and repair the material damage for you. And then you deliver beautiful compassion and truth and I am on the verge of tears. Sending love and hugs and hope your way.

  35. Ahhh. So happy I read this tonight. So well done. As always. I’m glad we’re keeping up with each other on FB. Now that I’m back on it and all. 🙂

  36. How is it that you can turn such a difficult, personal tragedy into a piece so beautiful and filled with such insight and compassion for others? While I’m so sad for your family and the loss you have all faced, I rest full assured that you will make it through this. Do you see what you’ve done? You have eased our sadness for your suffering while simultaneously giving us the secret to peace on earth. I think you must be magic.

    And incredibly feeling. And wise.

    Which is how I know doubly sure that you will make it through this loss and that you will find meaning in the struggle.

  37. Have I told you lately that you are the wisest person I only sort fake Internet know?

    • julie

      You all may only sort of fake internet know me, but I seriously love you people for real.

  38. First – I’m so sorry about the fire. Our friends went through a house fire (we even fostered their dogs for a couple of weeks). In fact we fostered her for a while, too, as he was in the hospital with burns initially. Fortunately they are all okay, their house wasn’t a complete loss, though had to be rebuilt and most of what was in it was lost. It’s such a big fear of mine, I shiver when I hear someone has had it happen!

    That said, this was an amazingly thoughtful post. Insight we would all be better off to remember before rushing to judgement.

  39. Oh, my sweet friend, Bravo. Bravo.

    And it is just like you to take something so deeply and personally tragic and spin it into this really, really brilliant and wise take on how we can all be better.

    Through our last political season, I was saddened and disgusted at the vitriol in abundance everywhere— from the talking heads on news channels all the way down to Facebook. There was no intelligent and respectful debate, it was all just pointed, angry, mean jabs at the other side. Growing up, at the dinner table, my father encouraged debate. He would bring up a controversial topic just about every night and everyone from the littlest to the biggest would weigh in. Those nightly dinners taught us so much. My dad taught us to stay informed about the world around us, to back our opinions up with fact, and to always be respectful of other’s opinions when debating in a civilized fashion.

    Girl, you are the most amazing thing, ever. And I wish for you love and good juju in these tough days you’re enduring so nobly. XO

  40. I so glad that you all got out safe, sad that you lost so much personal things. Thanks for swinging my my hood this week chica.

  41. Ann

    Such a great illustration of the stories we tell ourselves that we experience as “reality” or “truth.”

    Great post, but wishing you better and still better days.

  42. You are amazing. And though I wish I had more to say, that is all I can think of. You truly are. I’m so sorry for your home and so thankful your family is safe.

  43. “Less violence, more compassion.” This post reveals what I love about you most. Even in the toughest of times, you find something to hold on to. You look at the big picture. I am so in awe of you, lovely lady. You have strength, compassion, and character. And you can turn a phrase with the best of them. And you are so right when you say “Who doesn’t love Charles Dickens”.
    I’m so glad you are all okay.


  44. Yes, yes, and YES.

    I am so sorry, Julie. What a tough time it has been for you and your family.

    I’m going to be having a book event (or two) in LA on August 11th. I do hope I can convince you to come, so I can hug your neck in person and tell you that I think you’re fantastic.

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