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May 18, 2022

World : Home on Fire

(A photo taken by G from Highway 25)

One of my monthly resolutions is to organize my photos, to prevent the surprisingly mentally taxing process of going through them years later. I was talking to visiting friends about this process, and how I choose items to print to place into physical albums. We talked about how because everything is digitized, photo albums aren't necessarily that first answer to the question of what would you retrieve in case of a fire. This made me think about how little I own that is irreplaceable - would I rush for anything in particular in case of a fire? I couldn't really think of anything I'd need or want to save. 

Later that same night, we went out for paletas (Mexican popsicles made of real ice cream), and when we came home an hour later, our kitchen stove was in flames. 

It's hard to describe the sudden terror of seeing your home alight in fire and awash in smoke. Needless to say, those few minutes between discovery and disappearance of fire are seared in my mind. (A PSA to check the expiration on your fire extinguisher - the safety officer at my clinic had recently recommended I do this during my orientation and G had literally just gotten a new one for us a month ago).

Everyone, including our cats Bishop & Monty, were safe and while there is significant damage to our stove, what I had thought earlier that day was true - nothing material is irreplaceable. 

But the corollary that I thought would reasonably follow - that replaceability signifies a lack of attachment - didn't feel as fitting for my emotional state after the fire. I was and am extremely attached to this house. I thought about how much effort we'd put into creating this home together: the dining table and bookshelf library G labored to design and build, the secondhand pieces of furniture I'd slowly collected, the few plants I managed to keep alive, all the frames that went up piecemeal over many months as we decided on which images we treasure and where to place them. I would have been so, so sad to lose all of that.  I was surprised to find myself so devastated at the thought of losing things, when we've tried hard not to accumulate.

I realized that I love our home the way I've loved the wedding planning process - not for the objects themselves, but for what we put of ourselves into them. When we first started planning the wedding, we both knew we didn't want a lot of decor because for us it didn't have a lot of personal meaning. But as we thought of ways to put what we find meaningful into physical representations, it became a loving process of creating something personal together. 

And that's what our home has been, and was envisioned to be for a long time to come. Luckily, it is all still in tact and ultimately it was a very tiny catastrophe. But the thought of more loss struck me, in how much I felt we could have lost. 

When I expressed this to G, who is undoubtedly the least materialistic person I know, he said, "Hm. I haven't really thought of that. I just keep thinking I'm glad that you and the cats are okay." And for this I love him so much.

When difficult things happen - injury, illness, accidents - what I find most absorbing is this privilege we have to process. I have space to consider my attachment and feelings of loss, because while it is definitively frustrating to recover and repair, we have the resources to do so. And even if we had really lost more, we'd be fine. I'm attached to things for sentiment, not out of necessity; how lucky we are to have the room to own sentimentality. And so I am incredibly grateful for how these events foster gratitude. 

It reminds me that we have so much, and that emphasizes the continued need to share. It also reminds me of the idea of renewal - how in Ecuador they burn effigies called monigotes at the end of the year to make way for the new one, how in Japan they purposely burn temples and rebuild them. While all these possessions represent personal journey and investment, they don't encase them. That is always still there, even if it requires healing and digging back up and remaking. We're still the people we are individually, and together; and maybe we're also a little different, a little more mixed up and stronger now.

I was compelled to write this post after the fire made me contemplate loss in a different sort of way, and I noted that the last post I wrote here that was explicitly about loss featured a painting of a multi-colored fire by my multi-talented friend Sarah. That loss - of a spirit and soul, and of all that sustains a meaningful life - is so much more real. In so many threads I think of you every day, and of how your kind of fire - the kind that breathes and gives - outshines all others. 


After writing the above, I left this post simmering in drafts for over a month. G asked me if there was something I was waiting for before posting. I'm not sure, but I think that everything in the past few years has made me reconsider the value of these individual musings, that maybe they are helpful to me personally but not that relevant to people outside my small sphere.

Then New Mexico became alight in unrelenting swathes of forest fires. Hundreds of thousands of acres burnt, hundreds of homes destroyed, thousands of people evacuated. The natural character of the desert, dry and hot, turned disastrous by what we've done to the climate - dried out our water, ramped up our sun. The devastation of this beautiful, lush land and the roots of so many families has been heartbreaking.

I see even more how extremely lucky we were, to have fire foster gratitude, when it is causing so much loss for others. In so much of this, recovery is not possible. We're not going to see these lands grow back in our lifetime or that of the next generation. Wildlife is permanently altered. The lives of people, already sustained on the edges in rural areas with few resources, have collapsed.  

Despite the beauty of this state which has captivated G and me with such fast fury, or maybe because the beauty here is so wild and remote, few people have had the chance to witness it. It makes me so sad to think of how much of it is now lost, remaining unseen to those who haven't been here and mourned by those who have. 

With all the loss of land and life here and around the world, I look back on the value of building and doing what we can in small ways to foster growth. It feels so important to make use of what we have, minding how to savor and sustain it, at the same time we accept its transience. 

Donate to people affected by the NM wildfires here.

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