Fire brings us together

A glow emanated from Elkins’ town square Monday night, as the community came together to mourn five lives lost after a tragic house fire on Central Street.

The soft light of candles that burned throughout the vigil wrapped those in attendance like the hug of a warm embrace. For hearts hurting and aching, this was like a healing salve, a balm for the soul, as we struggled to understand how and why such a travesty could occur.

For a brief period, time stood still, as all who were gathered were asked collectively to simply breathe for a moment. The soft intake of air could be heard echoing throughout the crowd like a whisper, reminding us all of how precious life is and how it can be lost in an instant.

That’s what happened in the early morning hours of Oct. 28, when a fire ripped through the Chamberlain home and Elkins experienced one of the most significant losses of life from a single catastrophe.

The overwhelming grief that could have torn this community apart did the opposite. It brought hundreds together – standing shoulder to shoulder – united as one to not only remember the Chamberlain family, but also to offer assistance.

That show of solidarity sent a message: You are not alone.

Indeed, as Mayor Van Broughton so eloquently stated, this city’s residents and the surrounding communities will continue this support long after those who have passed have been laid to rest.

I didn’t personally know Alan Chamberlain, the family patriarch. A young man of only 29, he died a hero from injuries he sustained trying to save his children: Isabella Grace “Bella” Chamberlain, 4; Alanna Faith “Lana” Chamberlain, 2; Brienna Hope “Brie” Chamberlain, 2; and his stepdaughter, Katherine Claire “Kate” Bolgar, 11.

His wife, Jennifer Chamberlain, survives and remains hospitalized in the West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh, as does her brother, Jeff Hyde.

Medically, we do not know what the future will hold for the two survivors. Emotionally, I cannot begin to fathom the journey that lies ahead. However, whatever happens, they will not have to navigate it alone.

We’ve already seen this community rally to action. With burial costs looming, a fund was established to help pay for final expenses and other needs. As of Monday night, more than $11,000 had been donated to assist with these efforts.

More fundraisers are planned in the coming days, and The Inter-Mountain has worked to promote these events. So many people, businesses, community leaders and volunteers are combining efforts to ensure the Chamberlain family receives the very best this area has to offer.

As horrific as this situation is – and it doesn’t get any worse than when children perish – it does renew one’s faith in humanity. I struggled to hold back tears as I watched people from all walks of life, backgrounds and other diversifications come together to put others before themselves.

In the crowd, there were dozens of children, including my own. This next generation is learning first hand what it means to offer compassion during a time of great suffering. They are able to bear witness to what can happen when many come together for a common good.

Listening to the hymns and prayers, I was struck by the simple beauty of the messages shared during the service. I was filled by the Holy Spirit, and saw God’s mercy was ever present.

Christ’s love shone in the light of the candles. It was like a beacon in the night guiding us toward healing and salvation.

In a time when we hear about so many people who often do the wrong thing, I saw during the vigil goodness at its very core. If we take anything from this family’s suffering and great sacrifice, let it be the understanding that good can overcome evil. Selflessness wins over selfishness. This world is a better place because of people like our firefighters, rescue personnel and others who put their lives on the line to make a difference.

Monday night, this community made a difference, and it will continue to play an important role as the family, friends and loved ones of those lost in this tragedy work to grieve and heal. There is a long journey ahead, but it is one we will undertake together – one step at a time.