The day Sept. 15, 2010 started out like any other ordinary day. On most average days, my work usually began at the downtown office; commuting for 45 minutes to be at my desk. Early afternoon at the client’s office I put my cell phone on silence. At around 3 p.m., when I came out of the meeting and plugged the phone into the car charger, I noticed there were 20 missed calls and several voice mails. My first instinct was that something is wrong with my phone as I never get that many calls in a period of two hours.
However, once I heard the first message, I knew they were all real messages; a frantic search for me was ensuing. And, the voice said that, ‘Your House is on Fire!’ In those few seconds my immediate reaction was it cannot be; first of all, our house was less than seven-years-old and secondly my wife, who is usually in the kitchen at that time, approximately, three in the afternoon, was in Chicago. Well, I was terribly wrong. I was informed that a lightening had possibly struck the home’s fireplace chimney and had hit a gas line causing the fire!
It did not hit me right away, but, in the next 20 minutes when I reached my neighborhood I could see the disaster. My street was blocked off by the township police; there were several emergency vehicles and two fire trucks with raised ladders pouring tons of water! Of course, there were many bystanders who were either our neighbors or passersby creating a small crowed that corralled.
Once identified as the victim homeowner the police let me in and showed where to park my car. They then walked me close to my house and introduced me to the fire chief. The chief, a highly seasoned and trained professional handed me a bottle of water and set me down in his truck, facing towards my burning house. I was dumb founded and shell shocked! Fortunately, very few people have to encounter their entire home with all their personal possessions, including, great memories turn into ashes in front of their eyes. For the next four hours I saw my beautiful home turning in to a pile of rubble and flooded with over a million gallon of water.
As they say — when it rains, it pours! Our daughter’s wedding was on Oct. 9, some three weeks from this dreaded day. I asked the fire chief if they could try and retrieve her wedding dress from her room which was facing us and appeared to be not burning. The firemen did bring a pile of dresses from her closet and also our personal papers including passports, etc. Later, we found out from a professional cleaner that the bridal dress could not be used as it harbored a strong odor of smoke that could not be eliminated.
Right after, I sat in the fire chief’s truck. I got a call from my wife, who is a small woman with a big heart and strong mind and spirit; wanting to know if I was okay. She had been driving for five hours to Chicago to attend a friends wedding and I was to join her the following day. She had just reached Chicago she said and was turning around and heading back home. When she received the call from a neighbor, first thing she asked her to do was to check the garage if my car was in it. She wanted to be sure that I was not inside the burning home!
At 10 p.m. when she returned from Chicago, it was dark, our decimated home was cordoned off and all emergency vehicles and the TV van were gone. Thankfully, people who remained were friends who saw our house burning on the evening news. And neighbors who offered us their home to rest. I had secured a nearby hotel room arranged by the insurance company. Our close friends took us into their home and said that we should not be alone the first ‘homeless’ night.
At about midnight I realized that I did not have any clothes to change into and wear for the next day. The only place open at that time I was told was a nearby Walmart store. It was an eerie feeling to not have any clothes for the next day. With a heavy heart and an empty brain I was shopping around the store at midnight.
After a miserable year — fast forward to the next year — we had moved into a new beautiful home to live in. Our daughter’s wedding had gone exceptionally well with the help from lots of friends and family. Mother Nature, who had destroyed our home, had provided for the wedding: a perfect Michigan fall day, full of color and warmth!
We lost our beautiful home that we loved. However, now we have a new downsized home on the lake that brings us a lot of joy. Thankfully, some of the memorable family heirlooms and pictures were retrieved and restored as well.
Overall things worked out, some would say better than where we were before. The situation that seemed painful or even disastrous in a short run turned out fine. Whatever happens is ultimately for the best!
By Jay Shah