October 29, 1996 – 3:00 am – is when I received my wake-up call. I woke to the smell of smoke. I reached for my husband Mike and said, “Honey, I think the house is on fire.”
We both jumped out of the bed and I reached for the phone. Mike ran down the stairs to see if we could get out the side door, but was back moments later, coughing and barely able to breath.
I hung my head out my window and dialed 9-1-1. “Our house is on fire. We are upstairs, and we can’t get out!”
The operator said something that I don’t remember then put me on hold. I kept thinking that at any moment I would see or hear the flashing lights from the fire station one block away, but nothing happened. Then the line went dead.
The smoke was getting thicker. I was terrified. We yelled to the kids to get up, telling them to put their heads out of the window. “Karl, wake up—the house is on fire! Get your head out the window so you can breathe.”
Karl, my son, had difficulty opening his window and had to break it with his hands to get his head out. He was in the bedroom next door, and my daughter was upstairs in her attic bedroom. “What’s happening, Mom,” Andrea called. “The house is on fire! Get your head out the window so that you can breathe.”
The smoke made it impossible to get to either of the kids or for them to get to us. My husband, the Boy Scout, stayed fairly calm, reminding me that we could get out on the porch roof from our bedroom. In my panic I had forgotten and could only focus on my kids.
From our window I could see my son’s head and arms hanging out of his window. The streetlight was glowing through his hair, and the black clouds of smoke were rising above his head. I started screaming, hoping that someone would hear us – the fire station – anyone. Please come to our rescue and save our children.
I heard glass breaking throughout the house, but I never saw any flames. The heat kept coming closer until it felt like my back would soon catch on fire.
The smell of your home on fire is not the smell of a campfire. With so many different materials burning, the smoke is acrid and thick. You know that it will kill you and your family in minutes.
Only minutes later – although it felt a lifetime to me – the fire trucks finally showed up. I remember yelling to the fireman that my kids were in the house.
One of the firefighters had reached my daughter who was hanging out of the attic window above us. Two others had carried a ladder to my son’s window. I climbed out on the porch roof, and they lowered me to the ground.
I looked back up and saw a black blob come flying out of the window. Andrea had thrown our cat into the fireman’s arms before leaving the house herself.
Before long, we were all in the ambulance. Now that the four of us and our cat were together, I could finally start calming down.
Live And Learn
I don’t tell this story because I want you to feel sorry for me, I tell it because it changed the course of my life and I learned some big life lessons.
Stuff is just stuff – So much of our stress in life is about stuff… money, cars, clutter. But a real wake up call teaches you that stuff isn’t so important and can easily be replaced. What really matters is people and family.
Life Is Precious – Many of us spend much of our time living in the past or worrying about the future rather than being in the moment. This experience showed me that each moment is important and precious. It might sound cliché, but it’s true!
Be open to receiving – People wanted to help us, needed to help us. I learned to accept help with humility and gratitude rather than trying to go through it alone.
We are not victims in our lives – Yes, that was a difficult time, yet I learned some of my life’s greatest lessons in those moments. No matter what happens, we can choose how we respond to life:
Happy or sad
Calm or stressed
Strong or weak
Love and joy or shame and guilt
What’s Your Wake-Up Call?
Later, the Fire Chief told me it was probably the breaking glass or the smoke alarm in the kitchen that woke me because the smell of a fire never wakes anyone.
That’s interesting because sometimes, there is chaos, stress, issues and signs in our lives, but we are oblivious to them. Perhaps we are in denial. It isn’t enough to really wake us up until something pushes us over the edge.
Have you had a wake up call in your life?
What are some lessons you’ve learned in your most difficult moments?
Are there signs in your life that a wake-up is needed?
I encourage you to discover what it is that you value most, if you aren’t already clear. Make small changes and live each moment fully. You are precious, and I don’t want you to have a three-a.m. wake-up call in order to realize it.