I’ve Seen Stranger Things


If you’re wondering why these three unlrelated animals are posing in a perfect pyramid for this photographer, flickr user Telemachia explains below.

“After three days of storms and rain, we found these three floating in a pool filter, clinging to each other to survive. All of them were exhausted from the effort and were reluctant to part ways after being rescued.”

If there’s anything I’ve learned from being with the Red Cross, it’s that adversity brings strangers together. It doesn’t matter where they’re from or how they feel about each other. Being a part of the Red Cross disaster response is a learning and growing experience for both the clients and the volunteers, especially when you have the opportunity to listen to people’s stories fresh after a life-changing disaster. Chicago’s main breed of disaster is home fires and the victims have usually lost much of their home and belongings. Disasters like these can be tragic, but somehow adversity never fails to uncover the hope and sense of community that blooms among people who have all undergone the same powerful experience together.

This week we had the pleasure of meeting Charles, a resident and survivor of a Chicago apartment fire that happened earlier this week. He and several other residents are housed in one of the Red Cross emergency shelters nearby, and we were able to speak with him about his experience during the fire.

The first thing you’re going to notice about Charles is that he is wheelchair bound. The second thing that will strike you is when he tells the story of how he escaped the building through a second story window.

When the fire started, smoke began to fill the hallways almost immediately. Charles was in the room next door, so he closed his door and blocked the bottom to delay the smoke’s progress. He then went to open the window, but by the time he’d opened it the smoke was already filling his room.

It was then, he said, that he knew “It was time for me to go out the window, instead of just opening it.”

There were people outside on the ground floor helping others escape the building. The fire department hadn’t arrived yet and once they saw that Charles was still inside, everyone encouraged him to use the window to get out. They gathered up mattresses under his window so he wouldn’t be hurt when he fell, and helped him get away from the flaming apartment. “If it wasn’t for everybody helping each other, a lot of people would’ve gotten hurt.” He says, “It was that immediate help that was right there when it was needed, they took it on their own to help me.”

Volunteers Jackie, Kyle and I were so moved by Charles’ story that we haven’t stopped talking about all week. It goes to show that in the face of immediate danger people will be there to stuff mattresses under your windows to help you out of a fire, and they’ll share stories with strangers over a cup of coffee in the relief shelter.

Charles’ inspirational story can help us be better prepared for a disaster just by showing that we can accept the role of “helper” in an emergency. None of the residents thought of themselves as victims that night. Instead most of the 50 people were able to evacuate with practically no injuries and share a unique bond, though strangers, because they were survivors.

By Monica Ray
Photo credit to Darren aka Telemachia

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