I believe that community is family. I grew up as the daughter of a Lutheran pastor in a small central Pennsylvania town. I lived my life with my dad being everyone’s “father.” He was a pillar of the community in his black suit and white clerical collar, yet he was also one that the community could relate to as he mowed our yard along West Main Street in his white undershirt and faded straw hat.
After going off to college, I came back to this community and became a high school English teacher. At the age of 23 I was just beginning to be an adult, to find my place in the world. Until one event on January 29, 2003 made me re-evaluate and re-discover myself and the meaning of family and community.
On that fateful day my family’s house burned. The roof blackened. The windows exploded. The steps crumbled. Little was salvaged. Instead, my mom, my dad, and I started over. New clothing. New soap. New razor. New contacts. New jewelry. New sheets. New butter dishes. New. New. New. That’s not who my family is. We find value in the old, the worn, the antiqued. In some ways I discovered that new is better, that less is more. I also played a new role in life—strong caretaker. My mother, always the strong caretaker, was nothing of the sort. She refused to go in the house—to retrieve anything. She weakened. She wept. I tried to help my dad who struggled, I believe, with a sense of guilt. My family was different as we faced the tragedy in our own ways. The fire happened Wednesday morning. I was back at school on Friday. I couldn’t stay away—locking myself in our horror.
On Wednesday evening, the evening of the fire, a fellow pastor and dear friend of my father’s led a church meeting for a packed sanctuary. Questions abounded. What can we do? How can we help? Are they okay? Can we visit them? Offers spilled forth. If they need to, they can stay with us! Or us! No one asked: what happened? Who is to blame? These were the questions for the passersby, the un-related. Not our family. Our church was our family. Our community was our family. The town poured their love upon us. Students brought me clothing and gift certificates. My family’s church raised money. The community donated time and love as we picked up the pieces to begin our lives anew. I realized that a close-knit community would be part of the recipe for our salvation. I learned that family is more than mom, dad, sister. Family is the community around us, helping us cope with life’s ordinary events and extraordinary challenges.
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