My neighbors and I had a big adventure last weekend when a wildfire burned across the hills next to our neighborhood. We did not fall within the evacuation zone, but a neighboring community did, and as the day wore on and the black smoke rolled closer and closer to us, we entertained the idea that we might be required to evacuate.
As we watched the hills and tracked the flames, most of us began to gather a few things which we could quickly put into our cars should we be asked to leave. My son assembled a giant garbage bag filled with his clothes (he values a well-rounded wardrobe), his iPod, and his baby book. I piled four tubs of scrapbooks, photo albums, and journals by the back door before removing my grandma’s quilts from the walls where they hang and folding them on top. “Irreplaceable” was the standard by which I determined what I would kick myself for not taking with me later, should our house succumb.
Jeff thought I was decidedly over-doing it. Especially when I began stacking framed family portraits and the framed embroidered pictures my mom has made for each of my babies. Maybe I was over-reacting. But I rationalized that if anything sentimental was going to come with us, it would be my task to bring it along. Jeff’s prepared supplies consisted of a tidy fanny-pack sized bag containing essentially a toothbrush and a change of clothes, as well as a Manila folder with everyone’s birth certificates and other essential documents.
Together, we assembled another sizable pile of diapers, formula, a port-a-crib, and foods which the morbidly picky eaters known as our sons find acceptable. My adrenaline spiked at bedtime as I lay visualizing how quickly I could rouse my boys and get them into the car in the event of evacuation. Every car that drove up the street had me imagining that this was it–they were sending in volunteer firefighters to mobilize us. It made for a not very restful night.
Happily, we didn’t have to go. Our neighbors returned safely to their homes and the fire burned across the mountain and away from populated areas. The entire experience was an exercise in evaluating what is meaningful and irreplaceable. During the 24 hours or so when things were uncertain, I found myself repeatedly walking through the rooms of my house pondering if any of it meant anything, ultimately. If it burned, would I be heartbroken?
For almost everything, I felt confident that I could let it go and move forward, replacing what was lost with something else–perhaps even something completely different, but just as effective. I attribute this sense of detachment solely to Jack, who constantly schools me in the futility of getting attached to material possessions. With Jack around, things break. Constantly. Useful things, pretty things, electronic things, random things, cheap things, expensive things–Jack is no respecter of monetary value or aesthetic appeal.
The fire reinforced what my son has been non-verbally telling me for years: things don’t matter, people do. And my people are safe, whole, and happily going about the business of shredding, disassembling, smashing, and otherwise tactilely exploring the things which fill our lives.