Two weeks ago, J. and I went down to Indiana to help my 81-year-old aunt (who is in better shape than most people half her age) get her lawn/garden ready for winter. We arrived on Saturday and spent the weekend raking, mowing, eating great food, drinking wine, and solving the world’s problems (as we usually do). It was a wonderfully relaxing fall weekend at my favorite pastoral retreat.
J. and I returned to Chicago on Tuesday afternoon to find that the apartment above mine had been destroyed by fire that morning and that my apartment (and the one below me) had been rendered uninhabitable because of the water damage. By the time I arrived, the fire department had deemed the building safe enough to enter and allowed us to go in and assess the damage. My place didn’t look as bad as I’d feared it would, but I had no idea how much damage the water had actually done or how much I would have to replace. My main concern was my computer, which had been sitting on my desk and been plugged into a surge protector on the floor near the front windows where a good deal of water had flowed through.
I called my insurance agent who told me that if I filed a claim it would result in a “bad mark” on my insurance history and would most likely result in them canceling my policy. I was advised to see if my neighbor had insurance (she didn’t) and file a claim through her company. At that point I started feeling panicked as I didn’t know was salvageable or where I would live.
And then good things started happening.
J. offered her second bedroom for as long as I needed it and we quickly stuffed my bedding in bags to be washed and dried. Since I’d been traveling that weekend, I’d packed most of what I needed on a daily basis, so it was easy to transport it over to J.’s for the week.
Thanks to a quick thinking police officer, who went in behind the fire fighters, my computer had been unplugged from the surge protector and didn’t appear to have sustained any water damage. That night, the owner of the building called to offer any and all assistance I needed (which included getting me a new apartment in the complex, waiving November’s rent, and offering to have the maintenance guys move my belongings to the new place). The Red Cross called and offered assistance in finding housing, replacing furniture, and anything else I might need to help deal with coping and resettling. They also gave me a helpful checklist of the people I needed to contact as I prepared to move, an explanation of the emotions I might feel as I dealt with the crisis (and reassurance that it was all normal), and a small amount of cash to help with the moving expenses. And later that week, when I took my coats to my neighborhood dry cleaners, the owner didn’t charge me for the additional chemical process needed to remove the smoke smell from fabrics and offered to have the coats delivered to my new place when I was ready.
For a week, I traveled from J.’s back to my place to clean and pack. I was still anxious about the move. I don’t like it when things are out of my control (but then, who does?) and I was worried that I would hate the new apartment. I posted an update about the situation to Facebook, and felt uplifted by the kind words and support that so many people offered. And I tried to push the fear of the unknown back by reminding myself of all the ways in which I was incredibly fortunate: I hadn’t lost much, and what I had lost, could be replaced. I would get to stay in the neighborhood I love. And I now had an opportunity to consolidate, clean and reorganize my things.
I was getting a fresh start.
Last Friday I moved into my new place (an apartment in the building behind my old apartment) and quickly unpacked and settled in. From the moment I began unpacking, I knew that this place was different from the last one; it’s better than the old space. It’s cozier, one flight up rather than two, has more storage space, and the floors are all wood rather than half wood half linoleum. Its warmth inspired me to pull out photographs and artwork that I’d kept in storage since I moved to Chicago and hang them on the walls. When J. saw it for the first time, she commented, “Your old apartment looked like an office, this one feels like a home.”
On Sunday, after I’d unpacked the last box, I sat down at my computer and pulled up a link to a song that a friend from high school had sent me after I’d posted on Facebook. As I listened to the Indigo Girls cover Elton John’s classic, “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” I looked around at my new digs and felt incredibly “[thankful] for the people I have found.”
And I was, once again, reminded of just what a beautiful life I have and how truly fortunate I am to live it.