Hopkins
Hopkins

Last week, driving from Shilshole Bay Marina, where I live on my sailboat, I wondered at the fog enveloping the Ballard business district.

Typically fog sits over the water and blankets the marina, while further inland, even by just a few blocks, there are clear and sunny skies.

When I opened my car window, I immediately knew that it was not fog. It was smoke. Looking down 24th to Market Street, I saw multiple fire engine lights blinking through smoke so thick I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. It turned out to be from the fire that decimated four long-time businesses and badly damaged one more.

I parked my car near the library and walked over to investigate. Standing one block north of Market Street, I watched a smoke-engulfed firefighter on a ladder extended high above the burning building, aiming the powerful stream of water on the blaze. Others were opening hydrants and attaching more hoses, dragging them closer to the fire. All the responders were working hard to get it under control and observers were staying out of their way.

I listened to people around me, filming the blaze and watching in disbelief.

“I hope everyone is okay,” I heard one say. “Oh no! The people who work in that restaurant are so nice, I feel badly for them,” said another.

I saw the manager from the bank who had come out to see what was happening. We stood side by side for a moment, not as client and banker, but as concerned neighbors. Everyone in that moment, in that place shared an experience of horror, sadness, concern. We were united in our humanity.

A day or two later, I saw an article in the Seattle Times announcing a fund that had been set up to collect donations to help offset business owners’ losses until things could be settled. I was touched to see the number of people from the community donating. As of this writing, more than $69,000 has been raised from donations between $5 and $800.

As sorry as I am for the victims of the fire, I am grateful for the reminder of how much good is going on in the world and all around us; of our potential for kindness and concern and love and positivity.

Most of the news I read these days is overwhelmed by the antics of the president and his minions. I shake my head in disbelief every day. And then I keep reading, hoping something will arise from the print in front of me to reassure me that all will be well.

But it never does.

The self-serving actions of an egomaniac, supported by those who know better but do nothing to stop it, are distressing, to say the least.

I have begun to realize that my obsession with reading headline stories and focusing on something that does not seem to change is unhealthy. There’s so much more going on that is worth reading about.

After the fire, I began actively looking for news items about something — anything — other than impeachment or military action or guns or murders; something that was heartening like our community’s response to the fire.

I found them.

I read an article about a pregnant woman at LAX, waiting to board a flight to Portland. Her toddler was having a complete meltdown and she could not get him to calm down. She sat down beside him on the floor and put her head in her hands. Six or seven women spontaneously surrounded her, coming from different points in the waiting area. One peeled an orange and offered him a slice, another pulled a toy out of her bag and let him play with it. When one began to sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” the rest joined in. One offered the mom a bottle of water and helped her retrieve her son’s sippy cup from her bag. Slowly, he calmed down and, once their mission was accomplished, the women returned to their own seats and the rest of the flight went smoothly.

Stories like this warm my heart and restore my faith in people.

I read a story about a boy in Cleveland, Ohio, who returned home to find his agitated dog in the driveway, a shattered glass sliding door, and an awful stench coming from the house. What he found was not a robber, but a large billy goat taking a nap in the bathroom! The story ends on a light note. When asked about her newfound fame, the homeowner said, “There’s all these awful stories in the world, people need this.”

I agree. 

And while I’m not going to bury my head in the sand, I am going to mix it up a little, temper the horrible with the sublime. And remember that there are some very good people out there doing heroic things for others.

Irene Panke Hopkins is a writer, essayist and blogger.