(…simply put, we need each other)

By Mary Reitano

Last Thanksgiving, neighbors gathered at Fairfield Mountains Chapel to give thanks for deliverance from the Party Rock Fire which had threatened their beloved community. Their hearts were bursting with gratitude, knowing they could have lost everything. They expressed thanks for the firefighters, some of whom were present.

Firefighters, sometimes called a “band of brothers,” are a tight-knit community who depend on each other to survive danger. They demonstrated that unity fighting Party Rock Fire. More than 900 firefighters came from across the nation. This monstrous fire could not have been vanquished without their assistance. The combined “crews beheaded a fiery serpent… that had thrashed unchecked for two weeks through the rugged gorges around Lake Lure.” (Mark Washburn, Charlotte Observer) This camaraderie was mirrored powerfully within the community. Volunteers donated food, money, time, and opened their homes to evacuated neighbors. Residents received concerned calls from out-of-town friends and family. The entire nation watched and worried with us and for us.

The Party Rock Fire dramatically demonstrated how much we need community during a crisis. But, we benefit equally from social support in daily life. Our psychological world is at first internal; but expands outwardly, socially, to family, neighborhood, school, workplace, city, state, country, world. We are emotionally affected at any level–positively or negatively. One thing counselors use to assess emotional health is protective factors– strengths and resources that help people cope. One powerful protective factor is meaningful, supportive relationships. Those with a social network of caring individuals are less likely be overwhelmed by life.

Often, the core of social support is in our home. But, what makes a home? For many, it is a safe, familiar, comfortable place, rich with memories, emotional connections, favorite things, and most important, people we love. When our homes were threatened by fire, we did not just fear losing our houses, but all they represented. When residents were evacuated, they faced the difficult decision of what to bring with them. Many chose sentimental items like family photos or their grandmother’s china. The fire also threatened the fabric of the community: if the fire had destroyed homes and permanently displaced residents, it would have disrupted friendships forged over years.

In closing, a story that poignantly demonstrates the longing for home. When one resident evacuated to a friend’s house, she brought her 14 year old dog. Unfortunately, the elderly pet disappeared after they arrived. She was sick with worry. Then, over a week later, two volunteer firefighters patrolling the evacuated neighborhood discovered a frightened, hungry, thirsty dog. Amazingly, that old dog found its way to her house in the midst of the chaos. Like many of us, she knew the importance of home. ____________________________________________________________________________________

A true home is one of the most sacred of places. It is a sanctuary into which men flee from the world’s perils and alarms. It is a resting-place to which at close of day the weary retire to gather new strength for the battle and toils of tomorrow.” J.R. Miller