Monday, January 19, 2009


Life is made up of a long series of moments, each connecting to the ones before and after it.

I've long believed that one must appreciate all that came before, if you are in a place you want to be. Even the mistakes, the heartache and the pain, were part of bringing you to where you are now. Especially those.

It is not always possible to recognize change when it happens. Sometimes, it sneaks in slowly, imperceptibly, and you don't notice until things have been developing for a while. But sometimes, change happens within the space of a heartbeat, a breath, and you know, in that moment, that nothing will ever be the same.

Most of the time, it is far easier to look back and see the change in retrospect. Still, it is only rarely that you can trace something back to a specific moment.

I have a few of those moments in my life.

Some are sort of "standard." My first kiss. The birth of my first child. That sort of thing.

But others are less obvious to anyone other than myself.

I was eight or nine years old. We lived in an old victorian house (which I loved and would love to be able to buy, but it won't happen) on the main street of town, a little up the hill from the actual downtown area. I remember it was the middle of the night, dark and very windy, when I was woken up. I don't know what woke me, whether it was the lights, or the sounds, or a member of my family, but a house on the block behind ours was on fire. It was a new house, and I'm not sure whether anyone even lived in it yet.

Between that house and ours was another house, one facing the small cross street, which had been split up into several apartments. I knew almost everyone in that house, and watched from my bedroom window as they were evacuated.

I was terrified of fire. Transfixed at the window, unable to speak or move, I watched the drama unfold throughout the night. Were they going to evacuate us, too? Where would we go? Was the huge tree next to the burning house going to catch on fire and then spread embers throughout the neighborhood?

I remember almost nothing outside myself that night. Where were my parents? My sisters? How long did I stay at that window? I have no idea. I just remember the flames, the smoke, the flashing lights, the howling wind, the firefighters evacuating the house behind us.

And one other thing.

The tree did not burst into flames.
The fire did not spread.
It did not reach out across that space, hungry for victims, to find me.

I have never been afraid of fire since.
Respectful, absolutely.
But not afraid.

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