World on fire

There is a stack of books on display in my living room that is very dear to me. One is a scrapbook of all the ideas that Andy came up with for proposing to me. One is the novelty book about our relationship that he actually did use to propose to me. One is the children’s book that my two best friends wrote and illustrated for me as a wedding present, based on our Twenty-Somewhere characters. And one is the scrapbook of our wedding weekend and three receptions.

If my house were on fire and I could only save one thing (other than Andy and Riley, of course) I would save that stack of books. It is priceless. It represents the best, most sacred things in my life. Love and family.

When I was in college, my sister-person’s house burned down. Luckily neither she nor her mother were home at the time, but they lost basically everything. Clothes, computers, photographs, heirlooms, keepsakes, and most heartbreaking of all, their cat and dog.

(We were told that the animals didn’t suffer. The smoke muddled their brains and caused them to simply lie down and sleep.)

My sister was not able to save anything. She was not given that choice. She could only make peace with the ashes and rubble, and move on. So that’s what she did, with unbelievable grace.

Last week, Paris burned. Literally and figuratively.

It seems like every day there is a “house” burning down somewhere in the world. And in the wake of those tragedies, we see what people chose to save. We see what they value.

We see people who have suffered yet still reach out their hands to offer assistance or comfort to others.

And we see people who turn their backs, trying to protect themselves from further pain and fear.

I am lucky. I have never been in a fire. I have never had to see my home or my belongings reduced to smoky nothing. I hope that I never do.

But I also hope that if that unthinkable worst were to happen, it would not reduce me to smoky nothing. I hope that I would not be ruled by anxiety and anger. I hope that, like my sister-person, the experience would reinforce my strength, not reduce it. I hope that I would honor my loss not by hoarding what little remained, but by sharing it freely. I hope that my heart would remain open, and full of compassion.

I hope.

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  1. Alex

    Your sister-person would like to wish you a happy birthday! We can celebrate during your visit. :-)

    Also, to comment on your actual post: That particular brand of grace comes, at length, after much pain. It’s hard to believe it will be ten years since the fire in less than eight months, but easier to believe reading this post and feeling a duller ache instead. Time — mental distance — does indeed heal most wounds.

    • Thank you!

      For what it’s worth, you handled it way, way better — right in the moment — than most people would have. Trust me, as someone who was close enough to feel your pain, but distanced enough to see you clearly.

  2. Your sister-person sounds like an amazing person! I think we can all only hope that if the worst happens, we’ll have the strength and grace to carry on and not let that tragedy reduce us. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

    • She really is. :)

      Sometimes I wish I could write about Big Political Issues in a more eloquent and intelligent way — like an op-ed that would be printed in the New York Times or something. But most of the time, what I want to convey comes from a more emotional, personal place. I’m just glad that resonated with you here. Thanks, Alice.

  3. linda

    I know this isn’t the main point of the post but the stack of books really made an impression on me. I love that you have your favorite memories captured in scrapbooks. They sound amazing!

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