The Value of Things

A teammate at work recently had a fire at her house. It started in the attic, so there was plenty of time for smoke and heat to do their things.¬†Everyone is so thankful that she wasn’t home at the time.¬†That’s the good news; the bad news is she lost everything in that house, leaving her with the clothes on her back and the contents in her purse.

Which, thank God, was where the iPhone was. She and I have become emotionally attached to that particular iPhone because of its unique challenges and I would have experienced an intense – possibly inappropriate – grief at losing it.

The smoke damage is so horrible that, one afternoon when she tried to show me things she had collected in a sandwich bag, I had to fight some pretty basic revulsion reflexes at the smell and ended up kicking her out of my office. The limits of my empathy go only so far, and they end immediately before gagging and throwing up on my desk. Slogging through the burned possessions (soaked by the heroic efforts of the firemen who were called to the scene), she apparently has become inured to it.

The heat was so intense that it melted a lot of things, including the television, and buckled things like cabinet doors and furniture.

The insurance company has put her up in temporary quarters. She said she probably will be there through Christmas.

I’ll say that again. Through Christmas.

I can’t imagine recovering from a fire that takes all my furniture and valuables. But the thought of one stealing my personal photos, trinkets passed down from family, ornaments that have a story attached to them…basically, a fire like that steals not only your past and present, but a bit of your future. Most of the items I truly treasure are not valuable, except in the sense that they have the power to summon happy, or even sad, memories. Some I drag out when I’m with family and we laugh or cry; others I happen across and find time to sit in a chair and just remember the person who handed it to me on a special occasion or wrapped in gift paper that I can describe even now to the tiniest detail. Since the fire, I’ve had the thought that maybe a bomb shelter is not a bad idea. Not because I think I’d survive a nuclear attack. But my treasures (and the leftover Easter and Halloween candy) would be safe, and many years from now some mutant being might happen along and find my stash. And, even though its brain doesn’t work and it has a questionable dietary regimen, something small inside it will remember that it once had things to hold and remember. Maybe it will start singing What a Wonderful World.

Many people have offered to help our teammate, our friend. It’s because people have good hearts, but some of it is because we all ask ourselves: “What if?”

If you want to help, ask me for the password to the How to Help page.

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