“The fire which seems extinguished often slumbers beneath the ashes.”
― Pierre Corneille
I’ve been debating all day whether to write this or not . . . but I’m still thinking about it so I guess I will go ahead.
I came across a blog post today in which the author described some “must have” items as (paraphrased) “things I’d save in a fire,” complete with little flames dancing inside the letters of the title. And it bothered me. I contemplated saying something to this person (whom I don’t know at all) but I didn’t want to make her feel bad. And I felt like I was overreacting to her light-hearted post. After all, I myself once wrote a post entitled “Kids’ Books You Can Read without Wanting to Shoot Yourself in the Head,” without ever thinking my jocularity might trigger some unpleasant feelings for those who love people who have actually shot themselves in the head (although not because of crappy kids’ books).
It just goes to show that you never really understand things until they happen to you. I mean, even when you say to people, “That must be so terrible. I’m so sorry,” you don’t really know what it’s like–whatever IT happens to be. You know it sounds awful, but you don’t know how awful.
Yesterday William remarked, “We’ve had our house burn down and we’ve also been robbed. Those are two unusual things and they both happened to us.” And truthfully sometimes it’s almost unbelievable to me that such a terrible life-changing event did, in fact, happen to us.
It happened a little more than three years ago now, and the anniversary passed without comment. I thought about it a few days before, thinking about writing something, and then forgot on the actual day, because life goes on and life is busy.
But that post today brought back some of those feelings of loss, as do the all-too-frequent occurrences of fire-as-plot-device in the books I read. People’s homes burn to the ground, and everyone is all like, “Oh, how terrible! You lost everything!” and then they put them up somewhere and plans are made to rebuild or something, and everyone just happily moves on about after a day of sad.
I bet you’ve had the conversation, haven’t you? The one where someone asks you what one thing you would save if your house was burning down, and you say, “My kids,” and they say, “Your kids are safe. Pick a thing.” I know I had that conversation and I think I always said I would save the (supposedly fireproof) box that contained the negatives for all our photos. Which ironically WAS saved after the fact, but it wasn’t waterproof, so that was a bust.
So I started thinking today, if I could go back in time, and save five things from that house before it burned down, and those five things didn’t have to be my children, what would I save? The pictures didn’t even make the list, frankly.
The first thing that came to mind–and it came to mind immediately–was the pack of love letters that John wrote to me, at first every day, then less frequently, during the first year we were dating. I kept them in a drawer in my bedroom, and I used to read them over, which he couldn’t stand because he found it embarrassing. I know I’m just as glad all the letters I wrote to him aren’t around to be read in the future! But after the fire when I thought of those letters, that was the closest I came to crying over anything I’d lost.
The next item was easy too. I had a little board book which I kept next to my bed. It was called Global Babies and it was the only thing I had bought for the baby we lost. I used to hold that book and cry and cry. I could buy another copy, and maybe someday I will, but it won’t be the same.
After that I had to think. I had a box of things that were Mima’s. There was some jewelry I had given her. And a scarf that still smelled like her. The program from her funeral. At our Victorian house I had made kind of a little shrine to her with those things. I would have liked to save that box.
And I wish I could have saved the bag of newborn baby clothes, the one that would have had things that belonged to both me and John when we were babies, as well as special blankets our babies were wrapped in, and the outfit they wore home from the hospital, and the sweet little fluffy snowsuit they all wore. I would like to have those to hand down one day.
I couldn’t settle on a fifth thing, although it would probably be something wedding-related . . . and I’m not going to spend any more mental or emotional energy on it because it’s kind of pointless anyway, isn’t it? The fact is, had I been there, I would have run around screaming gathering children and cats and wouldn’t have thought for a second about saving anything, I’m sure.
And it’s only just occurred to me as I’ve been writing that I haven’t given a single thought to five things I would save if by some cruel twist of fate THIS house were to burn down.