Originally, I intended my ‘short hiatus’ to be a month or so. There was a lot going on. I finally decided to strike out on my own and get my own place in Philly. Work was in full swing with summer as researchers arrived for week long sojourns at NARA. Things were looking up and looking busy.
But life had other plans. On June 1, after 2 1/2 exhaustive days of moving (partially moved in at that), I bid my roommate adieu and crashed at my new place for a well-deserved sleep. I awoke to the sound of fire trucks and smoke. Not only that, smoke in my building. I grabbed what I could and hightailed it as one of my neighbors helped evacuate people from the building. As the fresh air hit my face, I turned to look at my building and saw this…
And I laughed. Now, let me start by saying that’s a fairly common reaction from me. I’m not one to go to pieces and cry. To make it even more of an odd reaction, it’s not a nervous laugh. It’s an out-and-out laugh. Here I was dressed only in my pjs with my cell phone and keys.
I could dwell on all the horrible, agonizingly stressful hours that followed but I won’t. Instead, I want to focus on all the things that went right. I had a roommate who took me back in without hesitation and helped me in anyway she could, a neighbor who risked his life to help evacuate others, the firefighters who worked for hours until the fire was out, Red Cross for providing water and snacks to the displaced, the good sense to buy renter’s insurance for the first time in my life, a job that worked with me when I needed to take a lot of time off, and to my family and friends who where there for me. It all meant a lot.
Life took another turn. There was not time to grieve the loss of my belongings or the fact I just faced my own mortality. Within days after the fire, my first ever exhibit opened. La Historia de Mi Familia was a collaborative partnership with NARA and Esperanza Academy in North Philadelphia. The exhibit showcased 30 mobiles created by ninth-grade students. The mobiles served as 3D representation of their family tree. I saw the pride in the students’ faces. That was their work hanging on the walls of a federal building.
In that moment, I laughed a laugh unencumbered by anxiety, grief, and sadness. It was a carefree laugh.
And then life took yet another turn. Within days of the fire and the exhibit, my older brother welcomed a new addition to the family. I became an aunt for the third time. His birth so closely timed with my tragedy (and my oldest nephew’s birthday) was a stark reminder that life goes on. More importantly, out of bad things that life throws at you, life delivers some pretty sweet moments too.
On June 5, I tweeted to my followers:
‘Life is a/b balance. Bad things happen but good things happen too. Welcome to the world my dear sweet nephew.’
My life in the past couple of months have taken twists and turns that I couldn’t have predicted. For me, it took a fire for me to take stock of what I really value in life and what’s important. I’ve learned to be okay with less stuff. I learned what I’m made of.
On June 2, a day after the fire, I posted this to Facebook:
‘One of the hardest things in life is getting back up after you’ve been knocked down. I’ve been knocked down a couple times in this life and, sometimes, it’s pretty tempting to stay down. But then I remind myself I come from a long line of strong people. We don’t let others push us around we get back up and fight.’
I believe all things happen for a reason. I’ve accepted finally that I am forever the eternal optimist.
No matter what happens in life, I never lose my laughter.