I, for one, have had my share of fire.
This week, decades later, I had the horror of watching it all again, this time on the six o’clock news. And this time I know full well the devastation that follows and the new world order my home town will have to embrace.
For many years I lived in the high desert, where forest fires were a constant threat. Living in the Land of Enchantment had its price. The real currency there was not cash but cool, clear water. One lightning bolt or careless camper and the whole forest could catch fire. Lives, homes, property, wildlife, and ecosystems could be destroyed.
So in November of 2007, I took a job in a quiet Iowa farming community, comforted by the fact that a river runs through it. Within three months of moving to Maquoketa, the downtown was on fire. The smoldering didn’t stop for days. The destruction gaped like an open wound for two years as the clean–up stalled and the downtown lay partially paralyzed.
Then came the frantic call on the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving in 2010. The building on our farm we thought was fireproof that housed our office, garage, farming equipment, and every conceivable farm tool burned like it was on a mission to prove us wrong in the shortest time possible.
Watching a fire burn your possessions, your memories, your business, or your livelihood is a surreal experience. There is a finality to it that is simultaneously sobering and liberating. The realization that everything is on loan to us for this short ride around the sun suddenly sinks in. As long as lives are not lost, we can recover, rebuild, reboot. Like a phoenix, we can rise from the ashes. However, we might just need a minute.
Ultimately we can let a fire define us or allow it to refine us. We can be the victim of a fire or we can realize how very much we have to be grateful for that cannot be taken from us. Of course, the jury may be out while the loss is still fresh and the feelings are raw.
Whatever your faith or whatever you believe, the prayer ceremony at Eclipse Square in Prophetstown on Wednesday night helped the community heal. The bricks the firemen handed out gave people something tangible to hold on to. This is how we move on. Moment by moment. Brick by brick.
But for good measure, I might just marry a fireman.