Last weekend there was a house fire in Echo park. One young man died. Two were hospitalized. Two were unharmed.
One of the hospitalized men is my brother's best friend. I also consider him a friend.
The whole story is quite long, but it appears to have been an electrical fire that spread very quickly. Ultimately, my friend sustained injuries when after having led his girlfriend and dog safely outside he thought the fire was small enough still that he could quickly grab his laptop computer (with his dissertation on it) and escape unharmed. Instead, when he was mere feet from exiting the house, the ceiling exploded and landed on him, throwing him to floor. His laptop slid several feet away and his back caught on fire. He heard a voice inside his head telling him to "Go! Go!" and he jumped up as quickly as he could and ran outside. That same inner voice recalled "Stop, drop and roll" and he immediately hit the ground rolling until the flames were out.
He made it out alive, but ultimately sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns.
His housemate, whom my friend credits with saving all of their lives as he was the one who ran around the house, banging on doors, waking everyone up yelling, "The house is on fire!" had apparently run back into the house as well with the intention of retrieving something. This mate became trapped upstairs and ultimately he was unable to be rescued.
It is an incredibly sad case. I never met the housemate, but by all accounts he was a guy whose last acts involved saving the of lives of the people he lived with.
The question I have, that I can't help but have, is why did he reenter the house?
Maybe he believed one of his housemates was still inside. The timeline gets a bit fuzzy, but one housemate had to jump out the window, following his brother's voice as he called out to him from the lawn. Maybe that was why the housemate went back in. He knew his friend was still inside.
But the other possibility, of course, is that he went back in to retrieve something material.
I won't ever know his reason, so I'll stop speculating about his actions.
Instead, I'll take this time to remind myself that there is never any material possession worth going back for. I absolutely understand going back for a person or a pet. Even in that case, though, I'm fairly certain that emergency response professionals would say to remain safely outside and inform the firemen that someone is still inside so that they can handle it.
It's one of those classic questions that people like to ask, some version of: "If your house is on fire and you can only grab one possession..."
But the reality is that while, of course, we all have irreplaceable sentimental items or important objects that are critical parts of our lives, we can ultimately do without all of them. We can. Perhaps our lives would have to change or we will have lost something with deep emotional ties, but we can move on from that.
And it is amazing how people rally together in times of crisis and loss. Friends and strangers alike will pull together to help out those who have lost possessions. As a community, we can replace everyday essentials and help to create new memories of caring and support.
I am absolutely grateful for my few things. I don't own much, but what I do I'm glad I have. I do not wish to see them destroyed or otherwise taken from me. Certain electronics are quite critical to my livelihood. Certain clothes and books are comforts. And I certainly have a few sentimental items. And yet. And yet.
And yet I could move on. I could eventually replace items. Over time and "with a little help from my friends..."