Here’s what I didn’t expect about a house fire (did I mention my house caught on fire Monday?). It’s really, really hard. Perhaps this is a good indication it was time to quit my job, but dealing with the aftermath of losing almost everything when my house caught on fire reminds me a great deal of working abroad as a Lonely Planet author.
I’m lugging around my entire life from place to place, I’m putting in 12-16 hour days of grueling physical and mental work, I’m interviewing dozens of people in a language I don’t fully speak (electrical circuits and asbestos contamination vs Slovene or Italian), and I have no idea where I’m going to sleep from night to night.
It’ll be a week this afternoon, but I feel like my life can be divided into two now: Before the Fire and After the Fire. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live through a war or an all-encompassing natural disaster where time stops for more than just two houses and for more than just a week or two. I’ve also been through trauma (much worse than this) on my own, and I know more than ever that connection is everything. Well, connection, experience, awe and safety. That’s it. Gratitude falls under awe. There’s the meaning to life I told you earlier I’d spill when I had the chance. (I have a whole system in place for accessing it; I’ll get to that later.)
I have these fascinating little blips into the human psyche each day. Yesterday, I heard classical music at breakfast. Classical music, I thought to myself in a brief, unaltered moment; I used to love classical music! You know, SIX days ago.
Here’s what I miss about my BTF life: classical music. Vegetables. Laziness. Working. Waking up every morning, standing on my fluffy white meditation rug, and gazing at my grandmother’s purple chair, topped with the two pillows my great-aunt hand embroidered. She just turned 94 in June; we had a really lovely ‘good-bye’ conversation a few weeks ago, where I was able to thank her (she’s completely lucid) for everything she’s ever done for me and my family. Another reminder that the only guarantee we all have is that nothing is infinite or stable.
Here’s what I don’t miss: Bullshit. Beating around the bush. Being nice for the sake of being nice. Monkey mind.
All of the fire victims I’m in touch with — Anne, Jen, Jesse, Kathleen, me — we don’t think about anything else other than the fire. Spending time with ‘civilians’ feels too incongruent. We don’t know how to talk to you right now. We don’t want to hear ‘Let me know if I can help with anything!’ one more time. We are so happy that you get to go about your life, and we’re all looking forward to getting back to that life one day, but right now, if you can’t have an hour-long conversation with me about asbestos contamination or how to salvage porous goods, I am sorry to say that I simply don’t care right now.
I’m not sure I even want to get back to that life. I’ll describe this in a later post because, well, I’m not even really sure I can describe it now even if I had the time, but I was serious when I said I was actually enjoying the instantaneous Buddhist-like non-attachment thing.
I’ve never been much of a ‘stuff’ person. I’m mourning the family heirlooms (I will find out in the next few days what I can salvage and what I can’t) and the overwhelming amount of money and time it’ll take to replace everything else (books and music will all be digital from now on). But there’s this overwhelming realization that I get something now that I was working towards but didn’t quite yet get before. At least I know I wasn’t bullshitting about figuring out the meaning of my life BTF (Before the Fire). I think I was heading down the right path, what with all the meditation and shamanic work I’ve been doing.
But a few moments have crystallized my thoughts: a) the moment I realized, yes, Jen (a self-described Chicken Little who probably saved my life) said, “I think our house is on fire” right when I smelled what my brain has assumed was a wood and fiberglass insulation barbecue and b) the moment I realized, even though we made it out of the fire and half my stuff looked fine, I might have to walk away, Desperado- or RoboCop-style. In those moments, my entire body instantaneously realized I couldn’t take anything with me, ever.