Friday, August 08, 2014

Kindness turns ashes to phoenix

More than 20 years ago, I had my first news "job" as an intern at the Niagara Gazette. I knew in high school that this is what I had wanted to do with my life and somehow, I was lucky enough to be able to do it without pay for my hometown newspaper.

One of my most unnerving assignments ever came while interning in that newsroom in the spring of 1992. A home on Grand Island had burned and I was asked (at the age of 17) to go to the home and talk to the family. It was horrible. These poor people had just lost everything and I had to ask them about it. I didn't like it. Not one bit.

Monday as I watched Leslie Huntington tear around the corner in his Batman shirt and try to run past Lockport firefighters into his still-burning home at 211 Mill St., I knew I wasn't going to interview him. This was not a man that wanted to talk. He wanted to yell, he wanted to cry, and he wanted to save his belongings. But he didn't want to talk.

Instead, I talked with some of the police at the scene, firefighters and neighbors. I even talked with Les' sister for a while. As is frequently the case in this small world we call Lockport, I had met her before.

Les watched for a while and ended up leaving. I can't even imagine how he felt.

Media types have a love/hate relationship with things like fires. We enjoy the rush of the breaking news but hate the aftermath. Knowing what it all means is heavy. Knowing that other people's tragedies sell newspapers or increase viewership/readership also leaves some of us (me, at least) feeling dirty.

Sometimes, though, there's an epilogue to tragic stories like the burning house at 211 Mill St. It doesn't happen all the time but it happens more than once in a while, where the tragic story we wrote has a positive impact. Such was the case with the fire Monday.

Tuesday afternoon, we got an email from a reader. He wanted to know how he and his church could help. I, in turn, asked Les' sister, who told me the family was accepting donations. That led to a follow up story about the fact that the family was accepting help. It also led to me talking with Les.

Still shaken, no doubt, he also came across as incredibly gracious that people wanted to help.

Of course they did.

Now, we often hear in cases like this, "only in Buffalo" (or in this case, "only in Lockport" as though in the rest of the world, people aren't generous, but that's simply not true. Kindness and caring happen everywhere. But they're still worth celebrating.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post