In the Hearts of Mankind

by Bruce McCormick
Mississippi, USA

My wife, three young daughters and I were starting dinner at 7:00 p.m. on Oct. 21, 2001, when I smelled a hint of smoke. As my wife’s candles had caused this before, I wasn’t alarmed, but started looking around. Coming back from the kitchen the smell was stronger. Suddenly my wife and I both noticed a thin haze near the ceiling of the family room where we were eating.

Against everything I’ve been taught, I opened the laundry room door. Two feet of black smoke rolled from the ceiling with a roaring fire several feet away. (The fire could easily have been embedded in the smoke, I was fortunate.)

Our small kitchen fire extinguishers were worthless against the blaze; with a larger extinguisher we could have stopped it. I called 911 and cleared everyone out of the house.

Adrenaline flows and you feel like you’re not watching reality. You smell smoke. You hear the loud popping of things breaking inside as the fire grows. You watch firemen climb onto the roof and cut holes with chainsaws. As fire leaps from new holes it created in your roof, a sick feeling grows in the pit of your stomach. What should have been controllable is destroying your home.

in-the-hearts-mankindIn the midst of this surrealistic horror something incredible happened. I have no explanation for what happened, as I’m reclusive, not someone who associates easily with others. People from the neighborhood started showing up with clothing. One family took our daughters in. Another took in our two big Labrador dogs.

People we’d never seen brought us coats, a chair for my wife, food to eat, a sweater for me. One family gave us a piece of paper with a prepaid hotel reservation — something I’d not even thought of.

Over several weeks more families — some we knew, most we didn’t know — prepared dinner and brought it over. They lent and donated furniture for our rental house, gave us clothing, provided toys for our children, and some included us in their prayers. Unknown individuals and groups took up collections and sent us money. Though so very embarrassing to accept, it was so very welcome, for we were not in the best financial state, and our insurance firm wasn’t easy to work with. We had to bear implications that we could’ve started the fire ourselves from the insurance company investigators.

I learned what emotional shock means. Often I would cry just describing the situation to people. I had no comprehension of the kindness of friends and strangers until this happened. I had done nothing to deserve this kindness. Their outpouring was from their hearts, and at their expense — just to help. I can’t thank them all personally, for some I never met, but I am so thankful for them, they were our angels.

I have learned a lesson of human spirit and what is in the hearts of mankind: a lesson to be remembered forever.

Originally published as HeroicStories #839

 

6 thoughts on “In the Hearts of Mankind”

  1. This experience shows once again: most people want to help others, they are looking for the opportunity even if they don’t know it. If you really have needs because of circumstances, not laziness, most people are willing and eager to help. This was a most unfortunate experience, but it broke through the cultural barriers of “embarrassed to need” and “afraid to give”, help. Any time we can get past the first one, and be served, it serves the giver too.

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  2. I truly believe most people are good, kind and GIVING.
    You DID have angels, disguised as your neighbors.
    If we all “answer the call” whenever the need arises, we will have a much better world.
    I just love helping out someone who cannot repay me……..it is so fun.
    When they want to repay in some way, I just tell them “someday when you see the need, just DO IT.”

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  3. That’s just what good people do.
    It’s hard to accept charity sometimes, but always remember the moment, and someday, you’ll pay it forward.

    God bless.

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  4. Wonderful story! One sentence stood out for me: “I had done nothing to deserve this kindness.”

    Another word for undeserved kindness is “grace”. And no one ever deserves grace. You can deserve a salary, or a reward, or a quid pro quo. But not grace. From an offered chair, to a coat, to a prepaid hotel room — heck, even all the way to eternal salvation!, it’s all grace. To be received as such, joyfully, gratefully, and with no guilty feelings. Wow!

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  5. We had a fire about 4 months later. We were living in a side by side duplex and the fire started in the basement of the other house at around 7am one Sunday. A young couple with a baby were renting the basement suite and a 30 something couple with a kindergartner lived upstairs in the main house. My husband and I were on the other side. The eight of us gathered across the street while the fire department fought the blaze. The older couple and their son soon left to go to a friend’s home and my husband and I stayed with the young couple and their baby. Neighbours came out and chatted with us, each one wanting details. All these years later what sticks most in my mind is that not one single neighbour invited the young family into their home. It was winter, this is Canada and it was cold! Our closest neighbour did bring us coffee which was very much appreciated. The fire was put out, the cause was deemed to be electrical, and while the other side was gutted our side only received smoke damage. All our home needed was a good bath and we were allowed back in late afternoon. Once the insurance company cleaned us up (less than a week later) we asked the older couple to move in with us while they were waiting for their home to be rebuilt and they stayed with us for 6 months. It was no problem having them. They needed a place to live and we had 2 spare bedrooms. We never saw the young couple again although we did hear they found an apartment and began the start-over. No one in that neighbourhood had so much as an extra blanket to wrap around the baby? We moved to a new neighbourhood later that year…I was not overly upset to leave.

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