They say California is burning

and it gives me the chills.

Yesterday morning, NPR ran a segment on the families who were allowed to return to their homes, and though I don’t remember the name of the community mentioned, I do remember the tremors in the peoples’ voices as they approached their own street, craning their necks to see which rooftops were still where they ought to be, and which had broken down into a shattered black pile of debris.

One woman found that her house was alright – a bit damaged, but standing – while another family returned to a burnt-black patch of earth, beginning roughly where their front door had stood as recently as Monday. The father, grief-stricken, in shock, said gruffly, “We’ve lost everything – everything. All the pictures of my son, my collection of hundred-year-old Bibles, our home. You don’t think this can happen, but then it does, in a matter of hours.”* He went on to describe how, when leaving for work Monday morning, he’d stepped out his front door to see flames shooting into the sky and to hear his neighborhood screaming. He grabbed his family (his son still in his pajamas) and fled.

Mitch and I lay in bed at six a.m., listening raptly as the commentator described a suburban neighborhood where only a handful of houses remained standing, though none made it through entirely unscathed. The process of returning home sounded not unlike a lottery – residents waiting, holding their breath as they round the corner to stare at their house, or what is left of it.

This forces me to reflect on what it would mean for us to lose everything we own, and though I like to think we don’t have much, I know, in some dimly lit corner of my brain, that that is a lie. There have been times (during Hurricane Karina, or when I hear of a friend of a friend whose house burned down in the middle of the night) that I’ve mentally catalogued our belongings, attempting, honestly, to think about the singular, irreplacable things I would miss most: the letters and cards Mitch and I made each other during our engagement, the baby clothes our mothers saved from both of our infancies, my baby teeth, the few photographs that we have between us, my wedding dress. Those frail evidences of our histories – our journals, the Bibles we’ve inherited from grandpas and fathers.

I am struck my how many things begin to come forward, items tucked away in closets that I rarely look at now but that would be a solid blow to my gut if lost. I am also struck by how many things, how many simple possessions come to mind as well: my guitar, our computers, my books, and so on – things that could be replaced but that might not ever, really, be quite the same.

At this, I begin to wonder to what extent we actually use our possessions, and to what extent we secret them away, for the sake of owning them. Why do I need to own every book that I read, or fill my drawers and cupboards with as much clothes/kitchen gadgets/make-up/books/food as I do? And how hard would I be hit to lose these things, to find myself with only my body (if I’m lucky) and a few odds and ends to my name?

At this point in our life, we don’t own much, but we own more than enough. Let us cling to what we do have loosely, and give freely to those who have lost everything, because I’m learning this much about life: at some point, in some fashion, our turn will come.

*I wasn’t able to find the segment online, so I’m quoting loosely. Please take this as my interpretation of the segment and not as actual fact.


4 thoughts on “They say California is burning

  1. thornskyvanschaick

    thanks for that Thea. i always marvel at how it takes a human tragedy for me to really sit in the goodness and ease of my life. it’s so easy to get caught up in our day to day struggles. as you said, i certainly have more than enough.


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