Your House is On Fire!

You thought you smelled smoke, so you went to investigate. The kitchen was hot. It was flickering, too. Kitchens shouldn’t flicker. But yours was. You called to your wife, and the two of you ran out the front door. You fumbled for your phone to dial 911.

As you passed the threshold, you thought, briefly, that this might be the last time you’d leave that door. That sadness quickly muted itself as you focused on making sure firefighters showed up.

You waited. The pit in your stomach grew larger, and you knew life was going to change dramatically. You worried. You didn’t have time to worry now, because some ancient part of your brain told you that you needed to sleep somewhere tonight. You called around.

You finished making the reservations right as the firefighters arrived. Help! Thank god. A series of questions followed.

“Is anyone still in the house? Do you know what started the fire? Did you have any chemicals in the kitchen? What about the garage?”

Answers come out of your mouth, but you’re not speaking. You’re dazed. You were asleep, and now you’re awake. Exhausted, but awake.

Food! You need food. Nobody’s open except the Wal-Mart. You hate Wal-Mart, but now you’re grateful that consumer culture exists, so you can get a bag of beef jerky at 3 in the morning. You munch happily on processed food, while your house, the Home you’ve built with your wife, burns. Or smolders. They say it’s smoldering now.

Your focus for a few days is mostly on food and sleep. You learn more about fire than you’d ever thought there was to know. And insurance. Food, sleep, fire, and insurance. That’s your life now. You see bills for tens of thousands of dollars, but somebody else is paying; thank goodness for insurance. You think. You aren’t sure. Sureness is something for people who are rested and well fed. You are more OK with not knowing than you’ve ever been, because you have to be OK with it.

In the few tiny moments when you aren’t focused on food or sleep or filling out paperwork, you realize that your life has been destroyed, and that you’ve suffered a huge loss. You know you’ll feel it later — grief, anger, sadness — but you’re just too tired to feel anything now, except desire for a nap. Those emotions show their heads for a second or two, like a preview for a television marathon that you’ve got not choice but to watch. For now, the TV is on mute.

Your wife surprises you with how strong she is, how resilient, and how much better she handles things than you do. You always knew she was strong, but you had no idea how deep that ran. A crisis like this helps you appreciate just how good of a partner she is. You resolve to do better for her, in a way that you’d never felt driven to improve for yourself.

This is what it’s felt like for me to have my baby. Except instead of a house burning down — which is a bad thing — we have this new little person who lives with us and makes demands of us, and has us far more interested in bodily functions than I have been at any time since the fifth grade.

Instead of brief moments of fear, anger and grief — I feel a joy and contentment that makes everything difficult I’ve experienced feel like the prelude to act one, and now this is the main show. This is the point. The purpose. The meaning.

I highly recommend it.

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