We survived a fire.
No one was hurt or injured.
We stood outside watching smoke billow out of the windows while firefighters ran back and forth.
Like instant refugees, my children and I stood, watching, waiting, with no more than the pajamas that we ran out in on.
It was a sea of faces.
The faces had questions.
"What are you guys going to do?"
"Where will you live?"
Not to mention our cat is still unaccounted for.
Once the camera phones had been put away and there was nothing left to gawk at except the family of half-dressed deer in headlights, the world slowly began to spin again.
Neighbors came and provided diapers and clothes for the children, sweaters for me and my daughter.
They offered their places if I needed to make calls or just to think.
I was so grateful.
Red Cross came almost right away.
They talked to me softly, pressed a folder with the words, ‘Moving Forward’ into my hands, and told me that this was just the beginning.
They laughed and joked with us, making sure that we had accommodations and basic provisions.
But, it was Independence Day weekend.
And how symbolic.
I didn’t anticipate having to stay in a hotel, but especially not over a holiday weekend where rates were at least three times what they were normally.
After exhausting my resources, I checked out of our hotel room and found myself feeling and being displaced.
Where do you go when you have nowhere to go?
People started to give us clothes and food right away.
Where do you put your things when you have no place for your things?
Where would I even cook?
I felt the children growing restless.
But, I couldn’t help the urge to say, "This is not play time!"
When IS play time in a crisis?
And when the sweltering heat started to affect my son’s breathing, my children were no longer full from the apple sauce packets and Lunchables, and all I could hear was the sound of kids crying from hunger, exhaustion, and frustration, I had to fight back tears myself.
The other part of it is that I suffer from Crohn’s disease, which is triggered by stress and poor diet.
My stress was at an all-time high and the processed food that I could scrounge up was killing my insides softly.
This was just a long weekend, I thought.
Can you imagine what people go through who live this reality every day?
Well, let me tell you.
It’s the millions of questions, having to tell and retell the story countless times, to people who may or may not even be interested or able to help.
It’s the dirty looks and "this is what you should have done" comments.
It’s simply wanting to take a shower and sleep and not knowing when or if that will happen.
When you are in that situation, reality TV or Donald Trump’s hair or which celebrity is on a bender are like things that matter in an alternate dimension.
But, I began to understand why the displaced and homeless look so downtrodden.
Because people literally and figuratively trample them under foot.
With unkind words and looks, judgmental tones, and outright ignorance.
But, the truth is, we are all one bad weekend away from being one of them.
Our pretty clothes and shiny cars tend to make us forget that sometimes.
I was displaced for five days.
Yet, there are people in one of the richest countries in the world, one that brags of unmatched freedoms, and people go without proper food, clothing, and housing every single day.
I was one of the lucky ones.
Once people realized what was happening, they stepped in and extended themselves in a large way.
We survived a fire.
And it was an eye-opening experience, one that I will never forget and has added a driving force in my life and heart to do everything in my power to make sure that no man, woman, or children have to suffer through a tragedy with added, unnecessary burdens.