Archive for Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Shouts and Murmurs: A reminder about perspective

December 4, 2002

Sometimes it's the small things that lead us to appreciate what we have. Friday morning I stopped to talk to the family of Jerry and Tina Coleman, whose house was damaged by a fire Tuesday morning. While there, I took pictures of the family sifting through their charred furniture and melted collection of vinyl records.

A memorable photo was of their daughter, Rachel, holding "Hero Cat" the cat that awoke her when the fire started. I saw the photo for an instant in the viewer of the digital camera.

As the morning sun casting a warm light on Rachel's smiling face as she hugged her cat. It was a picture I'll never forget. And a picture I'll never see again.

That afternoon when I attempted to download the pictures into the computer, something malfunctioned. And I wound up instead with no pictures, a camera that's now on its way to the Canon factory service center and a camera microdrive disc that wouldn't even be useful as a paperweight.

Also lost with the Coleman photos were shots I took of two families Joey and Diana Wenger and their children and grandchildren stringing lights along the outside of their Eagle Valley home, and Jan Theno tidying a red bow on her lamppost as an 8-foot-tall Santa looked on.

At least one of those would have been front page color one of my weekly goals. I was feeling sorry for myself, thinking about being without a favorite camera for possibly weeks, for losing shots of Tonganoxie residents who had so graciously let me take their pictures.

But then reality gave me a new perspective. That afternoon I returned to the Coleman family to tell them the pictures were gone it was about four hours after my initial visit and not much had changed. The family was still outside, it was still a chilly, dreary day. Tina sat in a chair on the porch, writing down each possession that her daughters brought to her, taking inventory for insurance purposes. Tina pointed to a garage-sized pile of charred belongings that they still had to go through. Clearly, they were not only cold and tired, but discouraged from seeing so many of their belongings go up in smoke and being temporarily displaced from their home. Family heirlooms, a 30-year-old record collection, the children's lifelong collection of Disney videotapes all melted or burned beyond repair. But what struck me once again was the family's cordiality. I had only met them briefly once before, but they welcomed me as a friend both times and what's more, they were comfortable with letting me take more pictures.

Here they were in the midst of chaos and they took the time to talk to and help a near-stranger. This has happened time and time again some of the nicest people I've interviewed have just suffered the greatest losses. I've often wondered if I would be so polite and composed during such a difficult time.

As I got back in my car and packed my old camera on the seat beside me there were tears in my eyes not for my camera on the way to the factory, not for my own inconvenience, but for sheer gratefulness at the warmth of the human spirit for people like the Colemans who, despite their charred and smoky house and possessions, so graciously reminded me what really is important in life.

All of a sudden the broken camera on the way to the factory seemed a very small inconvenience indeed.

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