“At least you’ll get some new furniture.” “Your house will be more marketable after renovating it.” “How lucky you have insurance to pay for a fresh start.” These are some of the reactions I got when people heard about my house fire, even as early as the first week. As soon as the major concern was over and my son was out of the hospital, some people thought I should look at the bright side of the fire, metaphorically speaking. My daughter made similar comments, too, when she called me from her dorm room in Florida. I put it down to the fact that she was, literally and thus emotionally, distant from the trauma of the fire and her brother’s ordeal. Plus, she was Ms. Science and, therefore, being her logical and objective self in analysizing the situation. But this kind of thinking irked me and sometimes angered me. My house, the house I was about to sell, was ruined! I saw my first-born hooked up to lots of tubes and machines in the ER and then airlifted to a military hospital’s burn unit and then hospitalized a few days! Don’t talk to me about the bright side!
Now it’s been about 2 ½ months since the fire. My feelings are not quite as raw and I can begin to see the silver linings. Yes, I will get a lot of new furniture, which is nice. Yes, I will be able to pick out brand new dishes and pans and kitchen appliances, which is cool. And yes, the entire inside of my house will be like new, hopefully making it easier to sell, which is a blessing in a buyer’s market. All of that is, indeed, a silver lining. But they’re not free. The amount of hours I’ve spent (and vacation hours I’ve lost) far outweighs any sense that I’m getting some freebies. There’s nothing like losing a bunch of your stuff to remind you that it’s just that – stuff. I can replace stuff. I can’t get back the time I’ve lost or the stress and anxiety I still feel just by shopping.
So what are the real silver linings? My son might say it’s not having to keep the house perfectly clean or getting to sleep past 8:00 a.m. on the weekends because there are no potential buyers coming to look. My daughter might say it’s being able to spend summer vacation in a big house with her own suite and not having to pack up and move. I can understand their perspective. Neither of them lost too much in the fire and they don’t have to deal with the insurance people and contractors and services and . . . the list goes on and on. For myself, I’m not entirely sure. Certainly the fire forced me to downscale and simplify even more than I had been doing the past half year or so. As I gradually replace items, I take time to ask myself it they are truly necessary, and if so, I evaluate quality and durability more carefully than I might have done before the fire. Quality over quantity. Less is more.
I suspect that I won’t fully appreciate the silver linings for some time to come, but there is one that I recognize already: I’m writing again. In the past, I have written and published some academic articles and reviews, a master’s thesis and a doctoral dissertation, and a few newspaper pieces for the local Jewish newspaper. Not too many people read academic publications, though. Probably more people saw my articles in the local paper than the ones in academic journals. When I was a teacher and raising two young kids as a single mom, I was too busy to write. I told myself that once my kids were older, I’d have more time to write down all the ideas I had. I haven’t been in the classroom for five years now and my kids are college-aged, so what was my excuse now? I guess like many people, I was all talk and no walk, or rather, all ideas and no writing. A few years ago I casually mentioned to a friend at work my desire to write more. When Matt asked if I wrote every day, I laughed a bit sheepishly and admitted: I never write. He didn’t remember the exchange when I mentioned it a little while ago, but I never forgot it. I wish with all my heart that the fire had never happened, but since it did, I know that one silver lining is that it motivated me to take up the pen, or rather open up my laptop and begin writing. Every single day.