Finding peace and comfort

The fire that destroyed the Villager Apartments over the weekend was a devastating loss for the residents and the entire community.

As the flames tore through the interior of the building, a sense of hopelessness set in. This structure from the 1870s, damaged by fire only a few years earlier, would not survive this blaze. The unrelenting intensity of the heat and flames, combined with a myriad of combustible material and strong winds, created a tinderbox.

Make no mistake, the members of the Marshalltown Fire Department were valiant in their efforts, dousing the flames as best they could, diligently making sure no one was in the building and that neighboring buildings were protected. They were heroic in the battle.

And while, thankfully, all of the residents of the Villager escaped the building unharmed — some with only the clothes on their backs — their possessions were gone, their lives unrooted. The heartache was palpable as they stood outside watching the flames gut their homes.

And yet, there was one moment where God’s grace made the heartache disappear.

Down the street, at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a makeshift command center for the local chapter of the American Red Cross had been established. Volunteers were working with the Villager residents to make sure they had temporary lodging that night, a stipend to purchase certain necessities and offered any other assistance they could.

One of the residents, a middle-age man, stood there in his socks, a t-shirt and pants. His personal belongings destroyed, no shoes on his feet. He had nothing left. It would have been understandable had he been upset, in tears over the loss of his home.

But in a moment of calm in what had surely been a night of chaos, he turned toward me and a Red Cross volunteer and said, “Hey, it’s just stuff, I’m alive.”

I remember nodding my head, in part, because there were no words. I didn’t know what to say, nor was there anything I could say that would so eloquently address his statement.

In a night of heartache, he found peace and comfort.

Any complaints or worries I may have had before didn’t really seem to matter at that point. How could they?

What those residents wouldn’t give to trade places with us — our troubles are few in comparison.

And perhaps that’s the lesson in all of this.

When you put your head to pillow tonight, count your blessings. Be thankful for the roof over your head, and say a prayer for your friends and family. Let them know you love them.

And if you want to help, contact the American Red Cross at redcross.org. Make a donation or become a volunteer. Help those who really need our help now.

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Jeff Hutton is the editor of the Times-Republican. He can be reached at 641-753-6611 or jhutton@timesrepublican.com