A couple of Saturdays ago, on a warm, sunny afternoon, I came home from running errands to see three gigantic fire trucks on our street. Fire fighters at the hydrant at the top of the hill, outside our door, congregated down the street.
Running inside our yard, I stopped. The house was unscathed, the dogs greeted me tails wagging, but the smell told me something had indeed caught fire. Piles of stuff I barely recognized, saturated with water. Burned metal, plastic bins melted into clothing, shoes, electronics, lay on our deck.
“It must have been a faulty lithium battery pack in your back shed,” was the fire captain’s guess. “Your son saved your house. Put out the fire with the garden hose,” he said as the pack of fire fighters with all their gear, pick axes, and ladders filed out. At the side of the house, burned wood lay strewn on the ground along with the metal brackets that had held up the shelving. I looked up. The rafters along the house were charred, but other than that our little home was fine.
Lucky. We were so lucky.
In the days following, as I dealt with calling the insurance, taking photos to send with the claim and getting the fire report, I was reminded that life can change in an instant. What ifs ran through my mind. The biggest – what if my son hadn’t been home? What if my home had been destroyed?
It took a few days to move the debris outside to be picked up or thrown away. Wash away the ash, the smell, the bits of plastic. One pile I saved for last. “These things here,” the fire captain said, “we could tell were of sentimental value.” He was right. I peeled writing journals away from grade school awards and high school yearbooks, finding my scrapbooks with photos and mementos from trips and sports I’d played. Charred paper crumbled and ink stained pages.
Everything I’d kept from my girlhood, my teenage years, my college years, my first teaching job, was ruined. I came across the remains of two books of poetry I’d written in my twenties, with covers designed by my sister, and self-published before self-publishing was a thing.
I hadn’t looked through any of those bins in years, but knowing they held a glimpse of the young girl, the young woman I once was, meant I still had the me from those times in my life. My son watched me go through these things, listened as I shared, hugged me in the end as we put them in the trash. Helped me breathe deep and let go. He understands, as do I, that the “things” we collect as we go along in this life are ultimately inconsequential.
As small as this incident was, it reminded me that much of life is out of our control. The one control we have, is our response. Anyone who has faced an unexpected tragedy knows this. I rediscovered I can handle whatever comes. I can find the good in whatever comes.
Whatever comes is happening right now. Respond from the best place you can, know you can handle it, find the good.