April 24th marks 6 years since my life changed forever. As we go further into the month of April and with this new corona virus singlehandedly decimating the world in every aspect, I’m reminded that we only need to survive ‘this’ one challenge.
It remains the single most difficult thing I’ve had to overcome so far in my 35 years of existence. I received a call one afternoon, my mom was on the other end. In between sobs, she was too incoherent for me to understand what she was saying and the call ended abruptly. My uncle called me immediately after and asked “have you heard?” I responded “heard what?” There was a deathly silence and in that time I imagined the worse things my brain could have conceived at the time; car accident, death, news of a terminal illness etc. Breaking this tense silence, my uncle said five very harrowing words that haunts me to this day.
I rushed home as quickly as I could, and got there within 10 minutes of that phone call. On the way there I kept repeating what my uncle said to me, but in a quizzical manner “my house was burned down? My house was burned down?” I saw the smoke from some distance away which eliminated any doubts in my mind that my uncle may have been mistaken. Pulling up to the the house, there they were; my mom, grandparents and aunts, almost the full complement of the 10 member family house I lived in. There are very few things worse than seeing your mother and grandparents standing on the side of the road crying while watching firemen attempt to put out a blaze that had already ravaged the house.
I come from very humble beginnings, I was the quintessential young Jamaican boy. My father moved out and left us when I was just six (6) years of age, while my mother was pregnant with my younger brother. With her not having the proper qualifications to earn a decent living at the time, you can imagine all the menial jobs she had to undertake just to make ends meet. We endured plenty of heartaches and hardships growing up and with every passing day a different challenge to overcome. One such challenge was not having enough money for lunch during school. This became a regular occurrence, I was placed on the lunch program at St. George’s College even before there was the PATH program. I also played sports, not only because I loved it, but also because it ensured that I could get meals. This was a guarantee on the days that we had matches.
Throughout these impoverished years, my family remained proud. No one would ever know without being intimately close to our family, that plenty of nights all we could muster up was bread and water for dinner. We however grew from strength to strength and when we moved to my grandparents’ house in a lower middle class community; it felt like a “come up”, the truth is, for us it really was.
It was a source of great pride and unrivaled happiness for my grandparents, being able to overcome tremendous odds to purchase their own home. Many a story as a child involved telling us how they were able to acquire such a coveted piece of asset in a place like Jamaica. When I saw them on that tragic afternoon, my heart was immediately broken.
In the aftermath of the fire, we lost EVERYTHING. We had to start all over again. Donned only in the garments on our backs, sifting through the rubbles to find even a keepsake like a photo album or any other memento. In life, we take certain things for granted until we find ourselves in a situation where those things are taken from us. No longer did we have the luxury of going to our closets to pick out clothes we wanted to wear, we could only wear someone’s second hand clothes or shoes, but for this, we were eternally grateful. People in the community, friends, extended family and complete strangers reached out in droves. If I began to list everyone individually I would have to make this into a 3-part piece. We received stuff from anyone and everyone, some gave us food and clothes, some gave us money. For months our situation epitomized the old adage of “what is one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. But what I also learned in all of this was that there really are good people left in this world. I could not have recovered had it not been for the good graces of all these people who helped.
It’s kinda funny that even with such a tragedy taking place, life seemed to have increased ten folds since that ill-fated day. I’m in a place in life that I would not have imagined being in 6 years ago. Don’t misunderstand, I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but life is good. Suffice it to say that tragedies indeed make you or break you. A lot of people find it hard to gain momentum and maintain continuity in tragedies, but it helps when optimism is in your tool shed. Optimism turns dark days into slightly illuminated ones. It helps to keep you going, even when you are at a dead end.
My grandparents were able to get back their own place of comfort to call home, through the truly commendable and heroic efforts of my aunt, 5 years later. They too are not yet where they would like to be, but are cherishing life, new opportunities and renewed hope.
Through the fire came a man with more purpose and vision. Through the fire, seemingly insurmountable tasks were achieved.
Through the fire, new heights are reached.
Written By: Jason McPherson