All that’s left

Without being overly dramatic, working as a photojournalist certainly leads you to some all-time highs and lows in a lot of people’s lives. This weekend in Riverside, a house caught fire and an 85-year-old woman named Deloris Benes died. Her husband narrowly escaped the fire as he hobbled out the back door moments before an explosion seared the top of his head leaving him injured but alive. Their dream home of forty-some years and a lifetime of possessions were almost entirely gone in a flash.

At the time, I was on my way to a nearby high school to photograph a basketball game. I was annoyed when I got stuck at a traffic light after two fire trucks zoomed through ahead of me. The thought occurred to follow them but I didn’t see smoke and I was running late so I made my turn, forgetting about it until the next day when a headline in The Chicago Tribune announced the fatality.

By the time I arrived at the house, family members in town from Texas and Wisconsin were facing the grim task of cleaning out what was left. They wore plastic suits and masks to protect themselves from the toxins left after any house fire. Every wall in the home they once lived in was charred black. How do you face such a life moment? During my time there family members occasionally paused as if to say, “where do we start?” They picked through photo albums and carried out old suitcases and family heirlooms.

They drank beer in the driveway during breaks and moved with a solemn, steady purpose. Maybe riding the “still in shock” wave. They laughed with each other too. I think because in times like this, that’s all you can do. Lives move on as fast as they intersect.

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