Thursday, September 13, 2007

What really matters

As we're entering the fire season here in southern California, I remember the first time we lived through it about four years ago. This photo shows the view from our back yard. By nightfall, the flames glowed through the smoke.

Watching the fire from my second-story bedroom window, I could see the bright orange-red flames outline the ridges. Every time I looked out the window, the fire seemed to be getting closer and closer. Then I heard that the homes higher up the hill than mine were being evacuated. Our street, only a few blocks south, was under voluntary evacuation. Jack was working late and I called him to come home. The police were guarding all the streets into our neighborhood and would let people leave but not to enter. Jack left his Jeep at the police barricade and snuck past them to walk the couple of miles to our home. We decided to pack our necessities into our car so we could be ready to leave if the authorities evacuated our street as well.

As we went through our house to grab what we needed, I realized that the things that I would pack if I were leaving town for the weekend—clothes, diapers, toothpaste, and such—was not the things I wanted to pack now. I wanted our family photos. I took the wedding photos off the wall—the ones that instantly transport me to that day when I looked into my husband’s eyes and saw the depth of his love as he recited the vows he wrote for me. I grabbed the photo albums that contained pictures of fun times with our friends, images of grandparents that had passed away, and portraits of our families throughout the years. I gathered up the discs that had all the digital snapshots we had taken the past year documenting Owen’s life.

It turned out that our street was never evacuated and no home on our part of the hillside was lost. Many weren't so lucky. Several homes and thousands of acres of woodland was burned. But that experience continues to serve as a poignant reminder of what is truly important. First, the safety of my family. I would have watched those precious photos burn rather than lose my husband or my son. Second, since we had time, we chose to save the most important items we had, and those were not the most expensive items we owned, but the most meaningful—our family photos.

Everything else is replaceable

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