Years ago, when my husband and I were dating, he had a house fire. He awoke in the middle of the night, confused as to what the terrible noise was. He managed to clear the haze from his mind to realize that the haze in his bedroom was smoke. Lots of it. The noise was the smoke alarm. His 5 kitties had all passed out on his bed, unconscious from the smoke inhalation. He gathered them up in his comforter, dumped the whole thing in a laundry basket, and ran for the door. His home was next door to the church where he worked, so he dashed across the parking lot and into his office. He managed to save himself, his cats, that comforter, a few articles of clothing that were in the laundry basket, and the snow boots and winter coat he threw on for the dash across the snowy expanse between the building that burned, and the building that didn't.
The fire had started in the basement. The weather had been very cold and the heater had been running nonstop, and there was a nail that went through one vent and into the wooden beam inside a wall. The nail heated up, dried out that wood, and eventually, it took flame. By the time the alarm woke my husband up, the fire was inside every wall of his home (balloon construction... those beams went all through the house with air all around them, so the walls were burning from the inside). The next day as he and a friend stood looking at the house, or rather, what little was left of it (the staircase was there, but led to nothing...) his friend said
Think of this as a unique opportunity to start over.
It's a statement we still laugh about to this day, and trot out whenever something is lost. But truly, it was a unique opportunity. My husband was divorced, and the fire burned away much of what was left from that previous relationship. It also took away boxes of memorabilia that his mother had recently passed on from his childhood home.
He managed to salvage a few boxes of things from his office... all of it smoke and water damaged. A few CDs, some books, his baby book, some yearbooks. But that's it.
My husband has never been one to put much stock in THINGS, and so this wasn't as hard for him as it might have been for other people. Like me, for instance. But having this happen once made it easier to contemplate it happening again. As Hurricane Katrina drew nearer to our home and I watched its progress from a television in Kentucky, I knew that I might lose everything. And it didn't matter very much, as long as I had the people I cared about. When it comes down to the wire, that is all just stuff.
My heart broke a thousand times over as I watched friends and strangers shift through the detritus the storm had left behind. Although we were spared, many we know were not. I often said "I would rather the storm take EVERYTHING than to have to shift through and decide what to try to save from a pile of dirty and mouldy and rotten things." I do have a strong attachment to things and the memories that I associate with them.
But to have all your things gone, wiped clean. It is a unique opportunity to start over. To start only keeping the things you want to keep. That you love. That matter to you. And to always know that they are fleeting, and just things. It's a unique opportunity to turn your focus on to the other things in your life.
Shortly after my husband's house fire, he proposed to me.
A unique opportunity to start over, indeed.
This post is part of Julie's Hump Day Hmmm... Today's topic was to "think about loss, what we value, and potential gain. Let's write about that. Imagine losing all your material possessions (except the few you can carry)... Or, tell us a story about some sort of loss. If you can inspire through hope, and tell us about something you gained from it, and real value, please definitely do that."