Fire has lived on the fringes of my awareness for as long as I can remember.
When I was 5, I watched our town’s theater burn. Standing in our yard in Prophetstown watching the flames envelope what seemed like the entire town, I couldn’t really understand what was happening. I knew only that something had changed that would forever shape our town’s history.
Last week, I had the horror of watching it all again, this time on the six o’clock news. And this time I know full well the devastation that follows and the new world order my hometown will have to embrace because, unfortunately, this is not my first fire.
In November 2007, I took a job in Maquoketa, Iowa. On a seriously cold Saturday 3 months later, the downtown was on fire. I remember standing on the steps of my home a few blocks away, feeling just as devastated as I did as a child. The fallout of the fire could be felt long after the flames were extinguished.
Watching a fire burn possessions, memories, businesses, or livelihoods is sobering. The realization that everything is on loan to us for a short time suddenly sinks in. As long as lives are not lost, we can recover and rebuild. However, we might just need a minute because the grief for what is lost comes in waves.
Ultimately we can let a fire define us or allow it to refine us. How a community comes together after a disaster is a testament to its character. I believe we are all everyday heroes waiting for a chance to do something meaningful.
The prayer ceremony at Eclipse Square in Prophetstown on Wednesday night, July 24, and the bricks the firemen handed out showed us how we move on. Together. Brick by brick.
Note to readers: Penny Plautz’s family still lives in Prophetstown.