Your home was once a place of love. Now it is a place of ashes. A place of melted appliances, charred stuffed animals, blackened books, and pile after pile of objects rendered unrecognizable by the cruel dance of overzealous flames.
It is no wonder that Hell is a place of fire. Fire kills. Fire forces tears even out of people who never cry. Fire twists the soul until it screams silent screams. When fire takes your home, its destruction is more than physical; it’s emotional and, in some ways, that loss is more permanent. Yes, you are grateful to be alive, but life is more nuanced than that. Life is more than simply possessing a heartbeat. Life is, in large part, about home. When fire takes your home, the holy mythos of ‘Home Sweet Home’ is no better than pulp fiction. You’ve been robbed of your beliefs and assumptions about home. Home is not permanent. Home has an end.
A home is people but a home is also things. Those things speak to people, to memories, to experiences. Those things hold value. Textures conjure feelings. Colors conjure smells. This is why we collect souvenirs. This is why we take photographs. This is why it’s so hard sometimes to toss out an old sweater or to not snatch a shell from that beach.
Materialism is superficial in the extreme, yet, in moderation, natural. Humans have always had things, no matter how small or how simple. Whether functional or sentimental, we need things. Not in the same way that we need food, water, and other people, but we do need them. First, we, as curious creatures, found things; then we, as intelligent creatures, started making things. Making things didn’t change the fact that we humans still had things. A Neanderthal might have been able to carry all of his belongings on his person, but he still had them—a leather pouch, a stone-knife, a spear, a fur pelt.
We build a home to store these things, to spend time with loved ones, to protect ourselves from the world. People are born in homes; people die in homes. They celebrate birthday parties, they get married. But homes are special not only for the momentous occasions that take place there. They are special for the mundane. People eat breakfast in homes. They get dressed in homes. They watch TV and read and chat on the phone in homes. People live, day in and day out, in homes. Homes are where much of routine—the bulk of life—happens. When fire takes your home, routine must happen elsewhere.
If you do not have home owner’s insurance, fire will cast you out onto the street. You will be homeless. If you do have home owner’s insurance, the company will shuffle you from place to place, but none of those places will feel like home. Until your home is rebuilt, you must seek home elsewhere: a friend’s kitchen, a neighbor’s parlor, a church basement. Even once your home is rebuilt, it will not feel like home until you remake it. You must fill it with new things, things that speak to people, to memories, to experiences. You must reimagine your routine, living it until actually becomes routine.
In the moment when orange flashes and gray clouds descend upon your home, the firefighters are the heroes. They rush in to rescue, to salvage, to calm. But, in the long-run, the victims—those who cope with loss for days, weeks, months, and years—are heroes, too.