My house caught on fire a few months ago. I was running late one Friday morning. As usual, I woke up, fed the cat and two cockatiels, got dressed, grabbed my bag and headed out the door, not realizing that this would be my last time to ever do so. I don’t remember much about that day at work, but I assume it was pretty normal. When I got home that fateful evening, normality flew right out the window.
I came home only to find that my twenty-year-old electric blanket had caught on fire, consuming my bed and most of my bedroom. I spent the night with some friends only to return the next morning and find that a second fire had occurred, this time completely destroying the entire house along with everything I owned.
Needless to say, the past few months have been a novel experience for me in many ways. I have learned many lessons by fire, which I would like to share with you: lessons of preparation, crisis management, and the unexpected.
No one can ever truly prepare for disaster, but I quickly learned of ways how I had both adequately and inadequately prepared for the loss of my home. One of the things I did right was taking insurance out on my house which covered property loss, replacement costs, and additional costs of living expenses. The financial burden of rebuilding my life from scratch has been made simple because I had the foresight to purchase the appropriate insurance. However, I was not quite as prepared for the aftermath of the fire. In hindsight, I should have video inventoried every room, closet, wall, and drawer in my house. Trying to inventory everything that you’ve just lost in a fire from sheer memory is a daunting task which can easily be prevented.
While preparation for potential disaster is always prudent, learning to manage your life in the midst of such catastrophe is also quite valuable. I have discovered that developing strong relationships with family, friends, and your local community is an invaluable resource. Quite simply, the first two weeks after the fire, every matter was intrinsically overwhelming. Simple decision making became a challenge, but I was blessed to have my folks, my church, and my friends with me to help keep things simple. By delegating simple tasks, such as driving me to different places or writing things down for me, an immense burden was taken off my shoulders which allowed me to accomplish the important things in the midst of an overwhelming situation.
The most important lesson came quite unexpectedly: overwhelming love. Never before in all my life have I experienced such an outpouring of love and support from so many people. Within forty-eight hours of losing my home, my pets, and everything that I owned, my church had supplied me with a winter wardrobe which would last for a whole month without having to wash any clothes! The people of the graduate program I’m in generously gave hundreds of dollars and multiple household items to help me rebuild. People I didn’t even know were coming to me, wanting to help. The experience was quite surreal. In the midst of all the horror and pain of losing all that I had, I realized that I had something much more valuable and completely fireproof: a God, friends and family who love me.
You know the old adage, “You never truly know what you have til it’s gone?” I have found this proverb somewhat lacking upon reflection of my own life these past months. Yes, I did discover the true value of my insurance policies once I lost everything. And yes, I did actually learn that I didn’t know what earthly possessions I had till they were gone. But I have discovered a new adage: “You never truly know what you have til you have nothing left to give.” When you are humbled to the place where you have no choice but to rely on the generosity, compassion, and charity of others and God Almighty, that is where you discover the true riches of what you DO have.