This week in Colorado Springs more than 450 families are newly houseless due to the smoldering blaze on the north side of town. The Black Forest wildfire has been burning for days; firefighters are still working tirelessly to contain it. Fire departments planned their attack well; over 2,000 homes were saved. (To all you blaze-stopping heroes: thank you!!) I’m slightly conflicted because Smallish chronicles our journey of learning to live contentedly with less, but in the wake of the Black Forest fire, I’m reminded that sometimes stuff really does matter.
Just a couple weekends ago my parents were evacuated due to a different fire threat, and we were grateful to be able to help them grab the essentials and flee. (It’s cliché, of course, that when you’re faced with 20 minutes to pack up belongings and run, the truly important things stand out crystal clear. But clichés are overused often because of their glaring truth.)
I failed the evacuation test, kind of. After piling stacks of irreplaceable photo albums in the car, I did a once-over through the house looking for small items that my parents would appreciate having in the event the house did catch fire. On the kitchen counter lay a bag of freshly-baked sugar cookies. I wondered if I should grab them. Then I silently chided myself for even thinking about saving the dumb cookies at a time like this. I debated whether or not to take the cookies for much longer than a sane person should have, and in the end I decided to leave the delicious stack of refined sugar and white flour. (In my defense, they were quite possibly the best sugar cookies to ever grace planet Earth. And the boys and all the really-absolutely-important things were already tucked safety in the car, so it’s not like I was deciding between the passports or the cookies.)
Given that very fresh personal evacuation experience, I’ve been thinking a lot about the people who lost their homes this week. What would it be like to pack a bag with whatever you could remember to grab and then leave your beloved house, only to later learn on the news that you had nowhere to return to? To see your lovingly decorated home—with all those memories and familiar scents and belongings—reduced to a black pile of rubble? I can just barely imagine the feeling, and it brings tears to my eyes.
You see, I talk a lot about stuff and how living small with less enhances a simple life. And how we really don’t need a lot of the belongings that we own, and that’s all true. But I’m human (newsflash!). And the fact is that humans like stuff. And that isn’t inherently a bad thing.
We transfer value and emotions to trinkets, and those items become cherished reminders. A bottle of sand from the Normandy beaches is a mark of your trip. A favorite cooking dish is a herald for a full family dinner. A great pair of heels is your go-to “feel awesome” kicks. A soft and holey blanket is a child’s security clutch.
As much as we say that things are just stuff and they are not really all that important, sometimes stuff really does matter. Maybe not in the crucial-to-continue-life type of important, but there’s a reason we hold onto many things. They make us comfortable or provide beauty or are a tangible piece of heritage. Sometimes stuff is precious.
When I saw the black plume on the horizon last week, I realized that the smoke wasn’t just from trees burning. It was someone’s long-saved-for bedroom furniture set. It was someone’s favorite floppy stuffed animal. It was someone’s postcard collection from overseas travel. It was also possibly a bag of newly baked sugar cookies.
So to those of you who lost a home in the Black Forest fire: I’m thinking about you, and I’m praying for your family. I’m so, so sorry. The destruction of a home is a terrible thing. I wish I could offer some sort of comfort, but all I can do is pray for contentment, peace and clarity in the midst of rough upcoming months. I’ll leave the comforting to Jesus, “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4)
Peace be with you in this fiery time.