My dad’s house burned down last night.
He was visiting family in England. A neighbor emailed to tell him.
‘Gone,’ was the subject line of the email my dad sent to tell me. And my heart sank as I read it.
He lost everything.
I didn’t know the fire was so close. If I had maybe I could have driven up there and saved some of our priceless possessions. But I didn’t. I was in my small med school world—oblivious to the world’s disasters, as usual.
“Its just stuff,” countless friends have reminded me. They are so right. We’re not hurt, and for that I am so incredibly grateful. But the sting of losing things that cannot be replaced is fresh on my heart. Paintings my grandmother made, his guitars, his books, even the really ugly 1980’s lamp that slowly became brown with dust. The Petula Clark records he used to play while I fell asleep growing up. Its hard losing that stuff—even if it makes me seem like a selfish asshole.
And then there’s the shock of it all. Which is what gets me the most. How suddenly a house full of such joy and happy times was turned to ash. Home is a special place—not only because you don’t have to wear pants, but because home is a sacred refuge from the world. When it all goes wrong, there’s always home to go back to. Except-- when there’s not.
There is something humbling and ironically metaphorical about disasters like this one. We are reminded of how helpless we are. But I am also reminded of how amazing people can be. Fire fighters are putting themselves in harms way to contain the blaze. Strangers have opened up their homes and their hearts to those who have lost theirs. I have seen the strength of rural communities like I never imagined possible. And the strength of the people helping in this disaster is stronger than any fire.
As of writing this, the fire continues to rage to 4 times the size of San Francisco. The roads are closed. So I sit at home waiting for my dad to return to the United States, so we can sit and wait and worry together.
There is solace in knowing that we are not alone. All of Middletown was burned to the ground. Over 100 homes reduced to their foundations. Rows of burned out cars line the streets.
I am determined to reclaim what the fire stole from this community. I’m just not sure how. They have enough doctors and paramedics--- and little need for second year medical students. But I can write. I can tell the stories of these people.
In writing about it, I will take back the power to decide how this ends. I will decide what my family’s story becomes and in the process I hope I can use my words to lift up a community whose physical possessions may be gone, but whose strength and spirit deserve to be known by the rest of the world.
Our homes may have burned down, but our hearts are fireproof.
To help the survivors of the Valley Fire consider donating to The American Red Cross athttp://www.redcross.org or directly to the crowd funding site at http://www.plumfund.com/community-crowdfunding/valley-fire-relief-fund