Deadly wildfires rage out of control over much of the central Texas plains. A hot dry wind sweeps the fields, fanning flames and hampering the best efforts of exhausted firefighters. At dusk, our sky is a pink-tinged haze. Today, I drove for miles through clouds of smoke.
This past month at our little house here on the prairie, we’ve had a killer drought, tornado-force winds, wild hogs, and now wildfires that are just way too close for comfort. I know that this, too, shall pass but, I have to just quietly pose the question…what lies next on the horizon? Locusts? The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
There is really nothing to stop the fires from moving our way, for no rain is in the forecast. I think about those who have lost their homes or who stand now in threat of losing their homes. How much warning will they have? How much time to take those possessions that are so dear to them?
It is a question I ask myself. What will I try to save if my house indeed falls in this path of destruction? What will I take, and what will I leave behind? These are the hard questions that many in our state are now faced with.
Both of my grown children, neither of whom live in a straw tinderbox as I do, have both suggested that I box up those essentials I could not leave behind. Ever-Resourceful Son, who happens to be genetically wired for crisis management (and not from my side’s gene pool, I have to say) already has his Essentials categorized, alphabetized, digitized, and compartmentalized in his “safe place.” (Wow, can I bunker there?) Whereas I—considering my years of saving and collecting and, okay, hording—have an overwhelming amount of lifetime…uh…(shall we say this nicely) memorabilia spilling willy-nilly from closets and drawers and garage storage that I could easily survive without but would rather not.
I remember a neighbor I had when I was young. A wayward firecracker set off a blaze in her house in the middle of the afternoon. She was ironing. She ran for the front yard, taking the iron and ironing board with her. Those two items were what she saved from total destruction in a house fire. An iron. An ironing board.
So, I’ve made a list. Essentials to Load Up in an Evacuation:
My mother’s jewelry
External hard drives with important digital “stuff”
A few changes of clothing
The dogs (all four of them, I suppose)
Important phone numbers
Plus, if time allows, there are A Few Extras that I would like to load up and save:
A deer-hide Bible that traveled with my great-great grandparents over the Trail of Tears;
A bas relief of Ramses II (acquired before the years of cheap replicas for gullible tourists);
8mm home movies from the late forties and fifties;
Tin-types of some of my great-greats…;
My dad’s letters from WWII.
There are trunks full of historical memorabilia—newspapers, photographs, letters. I know, realistically, that there would be no way to save it all. It would be sad to leave them behind.
Notice that no iron and no ironing board is included in my list. Of course, I could be so caught up in the panic of the moment that my brain would fry before my house does, and I’ll cart off really lame items like the big black floppy hat I bought in a used clothing store. An $8 birdcage from Hobby Lobby. Dirty dishtowels.
The more important question, I suppose, is what “stuff” do we think necessary to cart along with us through life? Are we dragging useless debris with us on this journey, paraphernalia that weighs us down and hinders enterprising and productive steps forward?
Goethe said, “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”
So, what is it that I most love? What things have shaped my life?
Jesus says to store up treasures in Heaven rather than here on Earth. So, I have to ask myself again: What do I treasure most in life? The platitudinous response would be, of course, that I most treasure my family and my friends. And, it is true. If my family were gone, nothing else in the world would be worth saving. And, it’s rather hard to imagine life without friends.
And neither of those, you see, are Things.
The stuff of this life that I value most is something that can’t be claimed, can’t be owned. It is moving, ever-changing, beyond containment. The salmon sky at dawn. The arching branches of an ancient live oak. The ripples of sunlight on a slow-moving creek. The ever spreading arms of a faithful God. These are the substances that cannot be shelved or boxed or even insured. And, no matter what happens to the controlled structure of my life, these things are treasures I can take with me wherever I go.
Easy to say, right? My house is not ablaze. I’m not even in immediate risk of evacuation. Life for me is, in this moment, as secure as it was yesterday. So, in the comfort of my intact home, I can philosophize and hypothesize and have life all figured out.
Now, if my house actually does burn down in one of these rampant brush fires, I may not be waxing so poetic about what I do or do not most treasure. For now, though, I watch with…well, a slight sense of apprehension…but also with a hope that what I choose to take with me from this house or through my life will be not only those things I most treasure but, also, those things I cannot own.