Through the furnace of life into the community of God
Many in Fort Collins and the surrounding area had first hand awareness of the many lives effected by the Rist Canyon Fire. Being aware of the stress and uncertainty of those waiting to discover if everything was lost is a wake up call to priorities in life. Watching friends and coworkers decide how to start over and what to do with their lives can create a bit of guilt over not having to face what others did, but also had a tendency draw out a new level of caring that could lead to action and a deeper experience of community. A couple of stories would illuminate.
Two of members of the volunteer fire department were making rounds to check damage and assess risk if fire returned. As they were getting back in their truck, one said, “Someone was left behind,” as a little dog ran to him. They took someone’s treasured pet with them to the station where they gave it water and food. It was famished. It was so afraid that whenever they tried to leave it would attach itself to the volunteer’s leg with all four of its own and not let go. They took the dog to one of the meetings where the homeowners got news of damage. As they asked around, by some incredible coincidence, or the grace of God, depending on your perspective, they found the family. They were just overjoyed, thinking their beloved pet was lost in the fire. It was especially good news since their older dog had already been victim to the stress of it all. Something was left. And something meant hope.
The story of the dog is such a small snapshot of all the disaster, heroics, aid, help, togetherness, grief and joy in such an event. But maybe it is a picture of how much everyone needs each other. Amplified by loss, displacement, and disruption of life the awareness of need comes front and center. There is a need for help and the togetherness of support, not having to face it alone that is probably always there. Maybe it becomes too easy to insulate life from others because it would take time, even though they could also provide the support of care. In a crisis it becomes clear that everyone is in the mess together and everyone needs one another. The little dog really is a realistic image of the realization that the need is for people more than our stuff.
The initial troubles weren’t the half of it. Many returned to homes where not all services were back and so much cleanup and restoration was needed. People found themselves taking turns eating at each other's homes and finding support and strength in facing it together. Months later there can be so many things not worked out, waiting for insurance payments, wondering how to afford the work needed. It makes hope hard to hold on to alone. It takes friends. It takes a whole community of friends.
During the initial crisis there were so many people involved. There were local and national firefighters. There were aid agencies like Red Cross, Convoy of Hope, and Samaritan’s Purse. Local churches organized through Fort Collins Church Network were on the scene and doing all they could as well and many others who sent people and equipment from all over the country. There were so many friends and volunteers who found a way to support with money, things given, the offer of a place to stay, listening to and praying for those learning to live with harsh realities.
In a crisis, when a person or family cannot handle it on their own it seems normal to find people to share life with, to support and find support. Sometimes the need is for someone to listen and actually hear. At other times the need is for a task that would be impossible alone.
It is important to reminisce about the experience of the Rist Canyon fire so the lessons won’t be lost and the connections can be maintained. The need for friends, togetherness and community may be stronger now, even if less urgent. Finding a way to strengthen and support someone still in this crisis may leave many strangely helped themselves. People in community find themselves stronger together than alone. The peace of Christ seems ours in a deeper way when we are loving his creation. This is a reality of life whether there is a fire or not. All can be a part of building togetherness, working against the natural insulation from one another, discovering a life of joy lived together.