Every once in awhile—and more often than not—a story comes along that warms the cockles of my heart. It may not be one that I have written but something I read.
Reading has always been a passion with me, not necessarily marathon books like War and Peace or Crime and Punishment, but rather quickies.
Lately I’ve been perusing the pages of these Chicken Soup books—stories that open the heart and rekindle the spirit. This morning, I happened to run across a story compiled by one of the authors, Mark Victor Hansen. I’d like to share it because it was one that escaped my attention, and quite possibly yours as well.
It had to do with the 8.2 earthquake that struck Armenia back in 1989 when the country was flattened, killing over 30,000 people in less than four minutes. Whether the incident took place in Gyumri or Spitak remains to be seen. Those were the areas that took the brunt of the loss.
In the midst of utter devastation and chaos, a father left his wife securely at home and rushed to the school where his son was supposed to be, only to discover that the building had been flattened as a pancake.
After the traumatic initial shock, this man remembered the promise he had made to his son: “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you!” And tears began to fill his eyes. As he looked at the pile of debris that once was the school, it looked hopeless, but he kept remembering his commitment to his son.
He began to concentrate on where he walked his son to school each morning. Remembering his son’s classroom would be in the back right corner of the building, he rushed there and started digging through the rubble.
As he was digging, other forlorn parents arrived, clutching their hearts, saying, “My son!” “My daughter!”
Other well-meaning parents tried pulling him off what was left of the school, saying:
“It’s too late!”
“You can’t help!”
“Come on, face reality, there’s nothing you can do!”
“You’re just going to make things worse!”
To each parent, he responded with one line: “Are you going to help me now?”
And then he proceeded to dig for his son, stone by stone.
The fire chief showed up and tried to pull him off the school’s debris, saying, “Fires are breaking out, explosions are happening everywhere. You’re in danger. We’ll take care of it. Please go home.”
To which this loving, caring Armenian father asked, “Are you going to help me now?”
The police came and said, “You’re angry, distraught, and it’s over. You’re endangering others. We’ll take care of it. Go home.”
No one helped.
Courageously, he proceeded alone because he needed to know for himself: “Is my boy alive, or is he dead?”
He dug for eight hours…12 hours…24, and 36 hours. Then, in the 38th hour, he pulled back a boulder and heard his son’s voice. The man screamed his son’s name, “Armand!”
He heard back, “Dad? It’s me, Dad! I told the other kids not to worry. I told them that if you were alive, you’d save me, and when you saved me, they’d be saved. You promised, ‘No matter what, I’ll always be there for you!’ You did it, Dad!”
“There are 14 of us left out of 33, Dad. We’re scared, hungry, thirsty, and thankful you’re here. When the building collapsed, it made a wedge, like a triangle, and it saved us.”
“Come on out, boy!”
“No, Dad! Let the other kids come out first, because I know you’ll get me. No matter what, I know you’ll be there for me.”
Now, here it is, 22 years later, and stories about the earthquake still permeate our lives. Two years ago when I visited Gyumri, a trip to the music academy found me interviewing the director. She was driven to the streets, pregnant at the time, while barely escaping her toppled home.
Others around her weren’t so fortunate. The school she taught at was leveled, along with much of the surroundings. The woman vowed to see her institute rebuilt and followed her dream as a memorial tribute to those who were connected to music and the performing arts.
Stories like these aren’t exactly Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, but are every bit as memorable in their own small way.