Today is the six year anniversary of the Galleria fire.
It is difficult to believe it was six years ago, I can recall so many of the moments in the week after the fire like they were yesterday – they are burned into my soul. I still remember watching the fire in disbelief as multiple fire agencies came in to fight the five alarm blaze. I still remember the moment when it became clear that the building would be a total loss. I still remember the shock and heartbreak my sons and their roommate Alex faced when they realized that they lost everything to include their pets. I still remember all the fire took from us the night of October 11, 2010.
But I also remember what it gave us, something that I have carried with me every single day since the fire – an appreciation of the humanity of the Fargo-Moorhead community as it rose up to meet the needs of the 150 displaced residents. I carry that memory close to my heart and I speak of it often. It is the memory that I share with friends and colleagues from out-of-state who ask why I continue to live in North Dakota through what they view as brutal winters. It is the memory I share with my students to evidence the power of community. It is the memory I honor every year on this day because it is something worth remembering and noting.
In 2010, I blogged daily. Hence, there was an entire week of blog entries dedicated to the fire and its aftermath (see What the fire took…). You can learn more about the fire through my lens there. Today, I share with you a blog written during that week (October 16, 2010) that expressed my gratitude to the community that so selflessly gave of themselves to help their neighbors after the fire. I want this community to know that I have not, and will not, forget the kindness shown to the Galleria residents. Be it six years or sixty years after the fire, I will always hold dear this memory. Unlike the other memories that are wrapped around what the fire took, this one reminds me of human beings’ ability to lift up other human beings with compassion and kindness. To have lived in the moment as it happened, was to understand the incredible power of a caring community. And I believe that was the takeaway that most aptly endures for me and all those who have experienced the heart of this community.
Another day in the new forty – obla di obla da
So here I am – on the other side of yesterday. The sun is out and I think I took my first full deep breath since Monday evening. Not that life has gotten any less complex or hectic – those are endemic characteristics of my life – but I do feel less weight on my shoulders today than I did yesterday and that is a blessing. The boys (Cory and Noah – my sons – and roommate Alex) are moving into their new apartment in earnest today (thank you Valley Rental for all your help). With them goes all the standard fare that you will see in other apartment move-ins – furniture, clothing, household goods – and something else that you cannot see but that they will always know is there – the love and support of the F/M community. You see, darn near everything in that apartment is something that was given to them by the F/M community. I cannot express to you the impact that has on me – but darn it if I won’t try.
Oprah often says that people just want to know that you “see them” – that they matter. I have lived enough years (alright, decades) on this planet to have experienced the feeling of being alone – of operating in relative isolation from others. When I visited North Dakota in the summer of 1997 for the first time, having spent decades in California, I could immediately tell this was a place unlike any place I had ever known. I didn’t really completely realize how powerful a place it was back then – but I knew it was a place where I could feel good about bringing up my kids. With 13 years in now I realize more about the magic of North Dakota…yet, it was only this past week that I completely understood the intricacies of that magic. I think I have now been able to go behind the curtain and see the Wizard – that is what the boys being affected by the Galleria fire gave me. And the magic – not unlike the simplicity of the Wizard of Oz’s magic – is just this…in North Dakota they “see you” – you matter. Seems simple, but it is oh so powerful.
I really had no doubt that the F/M community would extend a hand to the residents of the Galleria fire. I have lived here long enough to know that this community sticks together; but, I have never been on the other side of the equation. This time my sons were directly affected and as such my family in its entirety was affected. So now I am privy to the other side of the community’s cohesiveness and I must say it is literally like being carried through the ashes by a thousand hands – from the first recognition of the magnitude of the fire to this very moment – my sons, my family and all the Galleria residents have been carried by the community in a way that makes all the horrible realities of the loss seem more bearable.
Last night at the resident meeting one of the residents told me that if she had to go through such an experience she was at least glad it was here because she can’t imagine getting through it as well without the love and support she has received from this community. Indeed, every resident I have spoken with has been so grateful for the love and support put forth by the community – they literally feel it – they feel you carrying them through this.
I have a hundred stories to share about kindnesses I have witnessed or heard of over these past handful of days and they will always stay with me. I imagine they will all come out over time in my blog as kindnesses felt by the heart are never forgotten. I can only share a small sliver today; but, with every kindness I share, know that there are a hundred more like it.
My favorite story comes from Pastor Eric who told me that a young girl age 9 or 10 came in yesterday and took the money she received for her recent birthday – $50 – and purchased two $25 gift cards that she requested be given to two young girls who had been impacted by the fire.
God bless the hearts of children. Right after the fire, Cheyenne said we should not buy gifts for Christmas this year and just use that money to help the boys get back on their feet. There are many stories of children coming in with parents to donate clothes and toys to the Galleria residents. I love those stories because the role modeling evident in these activities cements the spirit of this community in the next generation.
I really have appreciated those businesses that have reached out to help the residents – there have been more than I can keep track of, but to name a few:
~ Gate City Bank gave all their affected customers $500 and held a statewide jeans day yesterday with the proceeds being donated to the long-term recovery fund set up with the United Way.
~Both Comfort King and Slumberland gave a number of residents new mattress sets.
~Restaurants have donated food to feed those working at the donation center, to those attending the resident meeting and to an upcoming spaghetti fundraiser.
~A myriad of retailers have given vouchers, discounts, and outright donations – from contacts, to shoes, to household goods – truly amazing. To name a few – Vanity donated boxes of new jeans and jackets, Maurices gave a number of residents $150 of free clothes, Foot Solutions donated another 20 or so pairs of shoes (in addition to all the residents they helped prior), U-Haul has donated everything from containers and free storage to boxes, and an unnamed company is donating desktop computers to a number of the residents.
The local colleges and their student, staff and faulty communities have been really good with their students who were affected by the fire and I want to thank them both as a parent of two of the students and as a member of the higher education community. I will proudly share the details of your response with other higher education institutions as I travel about the country…I am so touched by the commitment you have evidenced to these students.
As for the community’s contributions – WOW. Every day that I go to the Shepherd of the Prairie Church I stand in awe of not only the amount of items the community has donated, but also in the power of this little church to manage the tremendous donation management piece that has emerged. As I said at the resident meeting, this church isthe little church that could – their sheer will and determination to help the Galleria residents has overridden any challenges. On Sunday, they will have service in their sanctuary at 10 AM – which is presently packed wall-to-wall with donation items (service will be held amongst these items – what a powerful statement of doing the good work of God within their community) . I encourage everyone who is thankful for this little church’s efforts on behalf of the Galleria residents to attend this service – I will be there as a parent of Galleria residents – I hope you will be there too to say thank you to this amazing group of folks.
I am also personally indebted to the United Way for stepping in and handling not only the long-term recovery fund, but also for so graciously becoming a touch-point for the media and helping with the resident meeting. I have soaked up many hours of their time this week and through it all they have been incredible. At last count the fund was already over $7,000 and more fund-raising efforts are going on this weekend and into next week. Of course, thanks to the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Lutheran Social Services and all the other agencies who have already assisted the residents and will assist in the long-term recovery fund committee. Special thanks to Jackie Crawford from Red River Resilience for taking some time yesterday to speak to the residents about the types of feelings they may be experiencing and how to best take care of their emotional and psychological needs. I have felt the impact on my psyche as a parent of residents and I can only imagine what it is like for the residents to deal with all of this.
Also, thank you to those who have focused specifically on helping my immediate family (I say that as I now have a much bigger extended family in the Galleria residents and in those who have committed so much of themselves to this effort). From colleagues to friends to family for the thoughts and support provided to not only Noah and Cory, but also to the rest of our little family – much love and thanks for being there every day for us and particularly in our hour of need.
I am on the other side of yesterday and the sun is out – thank you F/M community from the bottom of my heart.
Day four hundred and sixty-seven of the new forty – obla di obla da