by Wendy Keller, Natural Disaster/Fire Survivor
I was in Chicago for Thanksgiving when I watched my next-door-neighbor’s Malibu home burn on CNN. The wildfire took out 53 homes and 9 offices. I lost one of each, and one innocent dog.
When we were allowed back up our canyon a few days later, the air was acrid with a strange smell. Fire victims will never forget that smell.
My daughter and I each had half a suitcase of possessions left in the world. Our two story home was flat, except for some charred and twisted appliances. I had finally completed an expensive remodel 10 days before it burned. In fact, the contractor cashed the final check the Monday after all his work was already ashes. We lived in a series of hotels for a few months, before Allstate found us a lovely rental.
This is what I can tell you if you just lost everything you own: believe it or not, there’s a silver lining.
Believe it or not, you’ll get through this.
Believe it or not, you’ll someday look back on it as a somber but beneficial turning point in your life.
Believe it or not, this is going to fundamentally change the way you live in the world.
You will never again think possessions matter.
You will never again keep something you dislike in your personal space.
You will never again think that what you have defines who you are.
You will no longer care about “keeping up with the Jones'”.
None of the things you lost – not even the mementos and baby pictures – were the thing themselves. They were just souvenirs of your life, that’s all. The French word “souvenir” means “a reminder”. You’ll figure out pretty soon that the item that belonged to your dead grandparent wasn’t your grandparent at all – and that you still remember him or her as fondly as you ever did when you had the object. Objects are not memories. They say “You can’t take it with you” but maybe what you can take – even if all your stuff is gone – are the memories of the people, places and things you once had in your life.
I’m not denying it’s hard. The insurance paperwork alone (if you even had insurance) is a freakin’ nightmare.
But the love of strangers, the unexpected heartfelt gifts, the comfort and the kindness of the whole world as we all wrap you in our arms now is a priceless gift if you let it in. Take my advice: let it in.
It can show you that the world is brimming with loving, kind, good, helpful people. It can show you that there’s hope for humanity, even hope for you.
The most common experience my neighbors and I shared after our neighborhood went up in smoke and we became diaspora was an incredible sense of lightness. Things are lovely to own, but every one of them weighs you down. Most of them require maintenance or a place to put them or some kind of care. It dawned on me one morning years later that objects are frozen money.
It dawned on me one morning years later that objects are frozen money.
I know it’s hard. I know you’re still in shock. I know you are reeling from the ripping away of every last shred of normalcy in your life. But save this post and read it again in a month, in a year, in three years. You’ll see these truths bubbling up in your irrepressible spirit. Someday, you’ll say, “That was just stuff. I’m more than my stuff.” And it will be true.
Someday, you’ll say, “That was just stuff. I’m more than my stuff.” And it will be true.
Sending love and comfort to all of you. It gets better. Let the emotions flow, but know that there is great good that will eventually come from this in your life.
When you’re ready, you will probably find this free
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