"Things are things."

“Did you lose everything?” asked the heavy-equipment operator, who has a daughter about Stecher’s age (25). His eyes filled with tears.

“Most of it, but it’s OK,” Stetcher said. “Things are things.” (Yvonne Abraham, Boston Globe-May 3, 2012)

When I contacted Gaia Stecher via Facebook she elaborated: “I know what doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger. This is not the first tragedy in my life, nor will it probably be the last. But I’m surrounded by people I love and who love me, and I’m just ready to move on. As for ‘things are things’, I know what it’s like to lose a loved one … my roommates could have died … I could have died. When you put that in perspective, things are replaceable.”

Amen, sister. How prescient, at any age…

Some stories cut to the core and are worth sharing with everyone you know. This is one of them.

Gaia Stecher is a waitress at L’Andana Restaurant in Burlington, MA. According to the Boston Globe, Gaia heard some commotion outside of her apartment door on a recent Friday morning. When she went to the door, she encountered Kathy Delaney and Tommy Proctor screaming and running through her burning three-decker apartment building in Malden, MA.

“There’s a fire, get out!” Delaney and Proctor told her.

Moments earlier, Kathy Delaney was sitting in her car arguing with her 13-year-old daughter.

From the Globe:

Her car idling outside the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, Kathy Delaney was trying to coax her already-late daughter into class. “I’m not getting out of the car,” the girl said.

The impasse broke when Delaney, 47, spotted the smoke – gray and wind-whipped, like a barbecue gone wrong, except nobody barbecues at 8 a.m.

The physical therapist didn’t think about it. She ran toward the fire, leapt up the stairs at the back of the building. She saw flames above her, on the second-floor porch. She pounded on the white door, yelling. No one answered. She ran onto the street, shouting at a crossing guard: “Call 911!”

That’s when Tommy Proctor, driving by after one of his regular coffees with buddies, spotted Delaney. “She was telling me, ‘You gotta help me,’” he said.

Proctor, 51, saw the look on Delaney’s face. She was going in.

“I’m not sure I was really thinking,” Delaney said. “If there was anybody in there, they have to get out, like ‘The buck stops here.’ I was the one who saw it, I’ve got to do this.”

That conviction is exactly what separates leaders from bystanders. As I have stated before, too many people talk a big game, but turn away or remain silent during moments of truth.

Proctor followed her to the front of the building. They charged through the door – unlocked, mercifully. They pounded on the door to the first-floor apartment, and urged the two terrified elderly women inside to get out.

On the second floor, Gaia and her roommate, a nurse who had worked an overnight shift, were alerted next by the screaming Delaney and Proctor.

Nobody had gone up to the third floor yet, where there was a young family, new to the building. Proctor saw that determined look on Delaney’s face again. “I knew she was gonna go up,” he said. He raced up the stairs before she could try. “I got up there, and I’ll never forget the look on their faces, the couple with the 3-year-old.”

Eventually, everybody got out.

Last week, Delaney and Proctor agreed to meet at the site of the fire and tell their story to Globe reporter, Yvonne Abraham:

This was the first time they had seen each other since the fire. They hugged for a long time.

The charred house still smelled like smoke. A blue tarp covered the place where the third floor used to be. The back porches were completely gone. The two new friends described the morning, marveling at the damage, at the crazy risks they hadn’t thought about at the time, at each other’s bravery.

“I had my phone and I didn’t even think about calling 911,” Proctor said. “I thought of my family, and after that, I just followed her. She’s amazing! I’ve never met a braver woman in my life.”

“I didn’t see any fear in your face,” Delaney laughed.

Just then, a red-haired woman in track pants and flip-flops came over, holding a cup of coffee out for Delaney: It was (Gaia) Stecher, who just happened to be passing by, and spotted her saviors. She handed the coffee to Delaney, who was moved.

“Oh, please,” Stecher said. “You saved my life. It’s the least I can do.”

She gave Proctor a tight hug.

Stecher has been overwhelmed by the city’s support since the fire, she said. The deputy fire chief arranged a hotel for her. The woman who owns Aline’s cafe down the street refuses to take her money. Friends have agreed to put her up for a while.

“It’s so good to see you in good spirits,” Proctor said.

“I can’t be crying all day,” she said.

As I stated at the outset of my blog and book project, In honor of my dear friend, Maryanne Hooley, I will be setting up a charity called Hooley’s Helpers. A portion of the proceeds from my book will fund the charity to benefit restaurant servers in times of illness, crisis and family emergencies. There’s no need to wait until the book is published to start helping people. Let’s demonstrate the power of community and do something right now.

Gaia Stecher was burned out of her apartment, and needs to find a new one. The fire and water damage claimed most of her belongings. As anyone hunting for an apartment knows, most landlords require first month, last, and a security deposit, in addition to the fees charged by brokers.

My goal is to raise $1,000 from our ServerNotServant community to help Gaia get back on her feet. There are a lot of admirable corporate non-profits that we have all contributed to, but here is an opportunity to do something very tangible and very real to help one individual in need. One hundred individuals or groups donating $10 will get us to the goal of $1,000.

ServerNotServant readers: If you can afford to contribute, please send $10 (or anything you can) to Gaia Stecher at 740 Salem St. Unit 2 Malden Ma 02148. The Post Office is holding Gaia’s mail until she finds a new apartment.

Restaurant (and service) industry brothers and sisters: Please share this story/link with all of your co-workers, and please ask if everyone can throw in a buck from one shift and send a contribution to Gaia. I’ve got to believe that collectively we can make a positive impact and help Gaia get through this. If you choose to participate, please leave the name and location of your restaurant (or shop) in the comments section below.

Yvonne Abraham & Boston Globe: Thank you for sharing this story.

Kathy Delaney and Tommy Proctor: Thank you for your leadership, inspiration and example.

Aline’s Coffee Shop and Ice Cream in Malden, MA: Thank you for your kindness.

Gaia Stecher: Thank you for your gratitude, wisdom and perspective

Gaia Stecher 740 Salem St. Unit 2 Malden, MA 02148

Thank you.

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