Colorado is on fire – again. A huge wildfire is burning about thirty miles from me. It has already claimed two, possibly three lives, and destroyed dozens of homes. My friend and fellow writer Melanie Mulhall wrote and asked how I was doing, and if I would comment on the fire for our writer’s list serve. This is what I wrote;
Hi Melanie and Friends,
Thank you so much for asking, Melanie. Several other folks have checked in with me to see how I’m doing.
Right now I’m feeling great sadness for the people who have lost their homes, and empathy for evacuees who are in that strange limbo of “not knowing.” The twenty-four hours I spent waiting to hear if my home was destroyed were oddly attenuated and quite surreal; time slowed down to a crawl, I felt dizzy and disoriented, and my mind was spinning. As most of you know, I was on the West Coast when my house burned down, and had to start my 1,700 mile cross-country road trip while in that odd limbo – hoping for the best, trying to prepare for the worst.
Eighteen months after the fire, I am better. The smoke in the air sends me into a place of concern, but not panic. I am deeply heartbroken for people who have lost everything, and so sad for the folks who lost their lives. When I heard that news this afternoon, I picked up Nellie and whispered, “That could have been me – that could have been us.” It gave me a renewed sense of gratitude that no one died in the Four Mile Fire, and that I did not have to run through the woods with flaming chunks of debris raining down, as some of my neighbors did. I did not have to look quickly at my belongings and make that terrible choice – what goes in the car? What stays? I did not have to chase my animals around in a blind panic, desperately trying to get them into the car, as did some of my neighbors, who lost beloved pets they could not catch as the wall of fire approached.
My next door neighbor has four horses, and had a horse trailer that only fit two. She had to choose who got to go in the trailer, and who didn’t. Her husband loaded up two horses, and then she grabbed the other two by the halters and started running down the mountainside as her husband drove the trailer down the road to safety. Remembering this makes me so grateful that Nellie and I were, and continue to be, safe. And I am grateful that when my house burned down when I was twelve years old, I was not at home. I did not have to jump out of a window of a burning building, as my family did – I was at a friend’s slumber party, telling ghost stories in a tent in the backyard, and then blissfully asleep.
Losing everything to fire is a bizarre and wrenching life passage, and one I would not wish on anyone. And, it has opened up my life in myriad ways that are still unfolding. What has gotten me through this year and a half is the love of friends, and writing, and service. I’ve been working with Boulder County and with United Way, trying to coordinate services for other Four Mile Fire survivors, and I continue to do that work. The support of my friends has been extraordinary, and I wish for the survivors of this fire that they have a community as generous and loving as you all. Your kind words, gifts, love and encouragement have kept me going each day, through these difficult and transformative months.
My father carried a small card in his pocket until the day he died that read, “To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own. – Abraham Lincoln.” That small card was one of my prized possessions, and it burned up in the fire, but I continue to try to follow in my father’s footsteps and live by those words. I hope I can help the survivors of this most recent fire, either through the blog, or in person, and that my words will somehow help them through the shock and despair of these early days.
Thank you for thinking of me, Melanie. Those of us who have experienced tragedy know that our redemption and our resurrection lie in the love of our community, and in our families and friends and families of choice, who hold us in their hearts and minds and take our hands and say, “I’m here – I’m still here.” For we are all surrounded by fire, really, in one form or another. Flames stand ready to incinerate our old lives at any minute. The fires that have taken two homes have taught me true gratitude for the simple fact that I am alive and breathing on this Great Green Earth, and at least for the moment, content, and ready for another day.
Sending Love and Gratitude to All,