I have found that there are few things in life that can have a very profound affect on one’s life and values. For me, one of those
things happens to have been a house fire in which everything my family owned was destroyed. It’s been 3 years since I learned some very valuable lessons about the unimportance of material possessions and appreciating the things I do have.
My mother and I left for a movie, only to receive several phone calls back-to-back before the movie had time to even begin. There were sirens in the background, people yelling indistinguishably, and a rush of energy penetrating my ear as I slouched down low in my seat to pick up the call.
While rushing through red lights and speeding around corners, my life was to be drastically altered. Everything I had known was up in flames. We pulled up at 8:11, the fire roaring ten feet above the roof and three fire department trucks surrounding the perimeter of our home in a quiet and quaint beach city just north of LAX airport.
Moments before we arrived, they had brought my cat back to life using an oxygen mask, and when I got there, they handed her to me. Limp and gagging on what was sure to be ash and charred lungs. My mother told me to find an emergency vet that was open and I sped off in her car, too stunned to shed tears, too shocked to function properly. It took $3k and 3 nights in an oxygen tank, but she survived, and we were all safe. That was the most important part, but 90% of our belongings (the other 10% in the garage was somewhat salvageable) had either turned to ash, burnt and charred, or was too badly smoke-damaged to warrant saving- and at first, that was hard to get over. How was I going to deal with having NOTHING. It didn’t set in until much later that those things were just that…things. I had to let go.
For the next two weeks I lived out of a hotel, refusing to unpack my bag until I found an apartment. Everything I owned could fit in my small suitcase and purse.
The weeks proceeding were…well, horrid. Wrought with emotion, exhaustion, and frustrating. Sifting through rubble, and finding pieces of things that I felt held so much value. Some of them did. The porcelain doll my great grandmother brought with her, and held while she stood in line at Ellis Island? Gone. The photos of my childhood? Gone. Along with things that could be replaced, that also felt valuable in that moment. For weeks we sat filling out paperwork, dealing with insurance adjusters and representatives, claiming and labeling items by value, brushing the ashes from old pictures in an album and letting go of memorabilia I had brought back with me from my round-the-world travels just a few months prior. It was all so emotional. And yes, “at least everyone was ok” was said more times than I can even count, and I said it myself as well, but it still felt like I’d lost everything. I needed to let go.
It took time, but I began to become exhausted by the idea of saving things and trying to repair or clean them in order to keep them. I started letting go. I’d take a picture if it was something very special, but otherwise, into the dumpster it went. I learned how to really appreciate the things I did have and stopped dwelling on the physical things I was missing. I began to let go of the physical things and hold tight to those that really mattered. My goals, memories, friends, family and passions.
Sometimes I find myself staring at a flame. I catch myself in a trance, blink, pull myself back to the here and now, and think about how something can affect us with so much intensity.