My House Burned Down, But Nothing’s Changed

I make a habit of asking people for lessons that they’ve learned throughout their lives; something that they’ve figured out the hard way. And then I try to learn from them. After all, everyone has been through hell to get where they are today… why should we all have to reinvent the wheel?

But, as much as I’ve learned from these individuals, I’ve realized that many things are impossible to properly understand and digest unless I  learn them the hard way myself.

Like last week, when I received that text from my mother: ‘There’s been a fire. We’re all okay, but a part of the house is gone. But thank G-d, we have what’s truly important.’

I stared at the text, not truly understanding: Remember What’s Truly Important… I think someone told me that once.

Fragments of thoughts fluttered through my mind like fragments of our singed family photos fluttering through the air.

I don’t know in which direction flaming photos fly. I imagine the memories burn upward until they meet their graves as ash.

Gone. A part of our house is gone. What did that word even mean?

The fire happened 12 hours before I received the text. I counted on my fingers (and when those ran out, I moved on to toes). 12 hours ago, I was lying in a hammock in a forest in Cambodia. Not sleeping, I don’t think. Philosophizing (in italics). I lay there contemplating the smallness of man and the greatness of G-d and the importance of remembering our temporal nature.

And thinking about how I owned too much stuff.

Next to me, cradling everything I really needed in life, sat my 55L backpack. 5 shirts and 4 pairs of earrings and 3 sets of Shabbat candles and 2 skirts and 1 pair of hiking boots. And my Kindle and my sleeping bag and my cooking pot and my rice and my oatmeal.

…And my toothbrush. (Because good hygiene is necessary).

But that was all. I remember thinking that I didn’t require anything more. ‘Why in the world,’ I asked myself, ‘was my closet at home still filled with clothes? With shoes? With jewelry?’

It never crossed my mind that  maybe my closet at home was no longer filled with clothes and shoes and jewelry.

That it was all Gone.

You would think that I would have felt it. The fire singeing my fingertips as it melted the memories of my childhood. Or, if not as warmth upon my skin, at least as a premonition in my gut.

That when an entire chapter of your life is deleted, something would shift. But I had no clue. I was at peace in my hammock as my books slowly burned.

[sc name="ad-300x600"]

My books.

I’ve been collecting books ever since I first walked into my Rabbi’s house and floated away on the color and smell of leather-filled bookshelves. It smelled like wisdom. It smelled like something that would last. It smelled like home: present and future.


And as I read my mother’s text message, it dawned upon me that all of that loss mattered so much and so little. I was still sitting in a hammock in Cambodia with my 55L backpack. My family were all still alive and blessedly well.

Really, nothing had changed.

Maybe my books were Gone, but what was important? What was important was still there.

I think we all spend our lives sorting out what’s really important. We try not to get upset about things that don’t matter. To ask ourselves , ‘Will this offense really matter in 6 months? No? Then let it go.’

And we try to figure out… what’s really important to me? Family? Personal enjoyment? Financial security? Religion?

We ask for advice, but these are decisions that we must make as individuals.

And decide we do. We try to find a happy balance between dedicating time and resources and emotions towards things that are necessary vs things that are important.

And sometimes it gets confusing.

But sometimes… Sometimes, we just know.  Sometimes we realize that the lives we knew before can never be revisited, but that it’s ok because we have what we need.

Like when you read about the terror attacks in France, or you clutch someone close after a close call. Like when you hold your child tight when you thought you lost him.

I’m not quite clear on what is Gone from my home… From my life. But that’s ok.

Because what I do know is that I have my family. And that’s kinda all that matters.

Especially after the events of last week, I’m reminded that that’s kinda the most important thing there is.