By Marianne Delorey
“Many brave things were done that night, but none were more brave than those done by men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea.”
–Quote from a Titanic passenger about the musicians who played to soothe the crowds boarding the lifeboats.
A few weeks ago, we had a fire in our building. It was confined to one apartment and although we had some damage, it could have been a lot worse. We were all so impressed with Worcester’s firefighters, who not only put out the fire but also helped our residents evacuate if they had trouble. They are, without hesitation, our heroes.
The most touching part of the experience was that they were also our caretakers. The firefighters brought blankets for our residents who had left their apartments in a hurry without a coat. Since the sun was setting, it was growing increasingly cooler when the firefighters showed up and wrapped our residents up while they finished clearing the smoke out.
The city also sent another caretaker – her name was Megan. I can’t recall her actual title, but she showed up and said, “I am here for whatever you need.” We put her to work sitting with and comforting one resident who was particularly disoriented. I imagine that in other fires, she has helped find people shelter, get in touch with loved ones, and find other resources for people who did not even know what questions to ask.
All during the event and aftermath, I kept thinking about the famous quote by Fred Rogers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” She was right. All around us were residents helping each other step over hoses, stay warm in cars, check in on each other, and more. Regardless of their role, staff also rose to the challenge. Some staff grabbed clipboards and started checking people off, making sure everyone was accounted for. Some staff helped the firefighters access locked doors. My youngest staff members all asked, “What do you need? How can I help?” Knowing they could stick around in case we needed them was a powerful comfort to me.
The helper who stuck out the most to me was Cindy, who works in our kitchen. Once we were back inside but still waiting for some units to be cleared of smoke, Cindy went and made a pot of coffee and served people something hot to warm them back up. Mind you, Cindy could have left an hour earlier, but she chose to stay. And like the musicians on the Titanic, she chose to provide comfort in the way that was most familiar.
Food workers embody the belief that food is love. They remember their “regulars” and the special items they like. They remember hundreds of details like “cream no sugar” and “hold the mayo” for more customers than I can count. They make us feel cared for and about. They make us feel joy in times of celebration and safe in times of crisis. Maybe the firefighters should bring a Cindy as well as a Megan to each fire. Maybe coffee would have gone well with that last beautiful melody on the Titanic.
While I am glad that that episode is behind us, I am grateful for the experience to see our caretakers shine. Seeing people excel at whatever they do best is truly magical, and crises offer us a unique glimpse into the special talents we all have. While I do not wish an emergency on anyone, I do hope that you have your moment to shine, but also that you get to witness the brilliance of those around you. A star cannot see other stars for their own brightness gets in the way. The light of the other stars is best seen when we are in the dark.