Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Unique Opportunity to Start Over

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."

38 comments:

Julie Pippert said...

Wow, what a story, and what a great perspective. I like that line: a unique opportunity to start over.

Julie
Using My Words

Chaotic Joy said...

I have often wondered, if I lost everything, what would I miss the most? And I have decided that other than my pictures (baby books etc.) I could live without the rest of it. It is as you say just stuff. And way too much stuff at that.

zdoodlebub said...

Great story, wonderfully told. I think that's what faith is really all about...faith that we are taken care of, that even if we don't see it in the moment, it is part of moving us forward in a greater plan.

Karen said...

ooo, that's a good story - with a dramatic and surprise happy ending too!

Kathryn said...

Hmmm. It would really be difficult for me to see that as an opportunity to start over. I don't take too much stock in things, but I would be devestated at the loss of my kids baby pictures, my wedding pictures and things like that. I REALLY treasure that stuff. Maybe too much. ??
Like you said, the main thing is that you have the people you love with you. It really does teach you to focus on what is important.

Emily said...

That's one heck of an engagement story.

atypical said...

Indeed, a unique opportunity.

I'm glad he used the opportunity wisely.

-t (here from Julie)

Candy said...

All I could think was, thank god he got the kitties out. Because, besides my children, that's what I would want to save, and on any given night I might not be able to find them. It worries me constantly.

Heidi Hyde said...

What a neat story-- a happy ending from a scary night!

-HH

soccer mom in denial said...

Wow. This piece belongs in some sort of anthology - Best Blog Posts of 2007.

Brava.

Amy Y said...

I love that way of thinking... I don't think I'd look at it that way, yet I consider myself an optimist.

But sometimes starting over is fantastic... it's nice to know that there are some do~overs in life.

Lela said...

We have had a middle of the night fire scare once. All in all I think it was a great experience. It not only shows you that you can get everyone out of the house if you keep your wits (cats included), but as you said, what is most important to you.

Mary Beth said...

My mother had a fire in her house 4 years ago and we lost a lot of stuff. But she was okay and her 4 birds were okay (she did lose her cat) so we were so lucky. After shedding tears over the lost items, you get to decide if you really need it or not. For pictures, we are starting to scan everything to photobucket (www.photobucket.com) where you can host your pictures for free, so even if the computer goes, they are still accessible.

I tagged you for a meme - 7 random things about yourself. Hope you'll take part:)

Beck said...

That's a scary story. Thank goodness he got out all right.

Emily said...

Beautiful Maypole!

Thank you for the perspective!

Badness Jones said...

Incredible post...

TwoSquareMeals said...

This is my first time here. What a great post. I often think that I wouldn't miss much other than photos. And then I think that even those memories, if I forget them here, will be waiting for me when I get to my real home. Thanks for sharing.

Luisa Perkins said...

This is a fantastic post, PM. Love it.

the dragonfly said...

When I saw the "Hump Day Hmm" topic I actually thought of the fire story. Hearing about that is actually one of the moments that made me truly realize that "things" aren't as important as I think they are.

And now, having the Little Mister in my life...I think probably he's the only thing I'd think about if there was a fire...

Maddy said...

Ours was but a 'small' fire [thank goodness] but we gained the same insight.
Best wishes

Jennifer said...

Wow. I like to think I'm not too attached to "things", but...I suspect I'm more attached than I think.

crazymumma said...

I lived through a fire as well. I wonder,does your husband sometimes wake in the middle of the night smelling smoke?

flutter said...

What glorious perspective in this, so strong so romantic so practical too. Beautifully done.

Candygirlflies said...

Amazing story, PM, and beautifully written.

Your husband must be quite a man, to be able to survive something like that, and to be strong enough to remember to treat it as a unique opportunity to make a fresh start.

xo CGF

slouching mom said...

what a frightening experience to have lived through...on the other hand, he must know that when push comes to shove, he can handle it.

WorksForMom said...

Wow, what a thrilling engagement story!

Rimarama said...

While I would never wish for a fire or natural disaster, it would be nice to find an easy way to get rid of all the junk we've collected over the years. I read somewhere that for every new material possession you bring in, you should give another one away and I think that's a good rule to live by.

zellmer said...

I love that line, too. Beautiful post.

Amanda said...

Indeed.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

"When it comes down to the wire, that is all just stuff"....exactly. This is exactly what I think. When it comes down to it the stuff matters not a whit in comparison to lives.

creative-type dad said...

That's frightening.

I was in a major earthquake in '94. That changed my life in so many ways..

nomotherearth said...

The only "things" I think I would miss would be pictures. Other than that, it's all about people for me..

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

lovely and thoughtful post!

Julie said...

This is lovely. I was going OK, even through five passed out kitties, until the end when I have to admit I got a bit choked up. Call me a romantic. Or a hormonal new mom. You know, either one.

Victoria said...

Beautiful - what everyone else has already said...just lovely! =)

Jenn said...

It's a unique ability to think that way.

Absolutely remarkable.

b*babbler said...

What an incredible story.

(And I'm so happy that he was able to rescue all the kitties!)

blooming desertpea said...

I like that line as I like to start over once in a while. What a fire does in big style, moving does in a more little style. I found moving abroad was great opportunity to detach from past things, past memories, past ballast in general.