This time it was different. I’ve seen more than a few house fires over the years. Typically we, as firefighters, do our thing, ensure life safety, mitigate the situation, ensure all is well and all are safe, pick up our tools and head back to the station. Only this time I was on the other side of the fire hose — I had a personal connection.
The family lost its home in one of the recent devastating wildfires on the Front Range. Has it changed their perspective? How could it not? It changed mine, too — a few of us grabbed shovels and rakes in the aftermath and helped sift through the ashes and 21 years of charred memories. How do you rebuild your life after all the material possessions you’ve amassed over the years are destroyed? Perhaps losing the irreplaceable stuff helps us maintain perspective on what’s really important in life — like that special Christmas card your kid made you in kindergarten, an old dog collar, a favorite book with your favorite passages underlined, your grandmothers ring — you get it. It seems that sometimes the most important things in life aren’t things.
The family’s perspective was, well, amazing. They were devastated, but grateful; overwhelmed, but knew it could have been worse; faced with starting over, but knew how good it was to have something with which to start. In this particular story, there was a remarkable, somewhat incredulous twist.
As the family dug through heaps of ashes that used to be beds, couches, clothing, dishes and remnants of home, they found little that was salvageable, except for a small porcelain box — not too unusual, I suppose. But it’s what was inside that was cause for wonder. That little box had a stone inside, nothing else, just a single stone. On that stone was one inscribed word, “believe.” That’s it — believe.
When all else was destroyed to ashes, how did that small porcelain box survive, and more so, how’d the rock get in there? I don’t know — no one does; but maybe it doesn’t matter; it’s not important. The important thing was the word on the rock.
Take it any way you want: Believe in second chances, life after a fire, something bigger than yourself, a higher power, Santa Claus, the indomitable human spirit; it’s up to you, but just believe.
Oh yeah, it’s probably relevant to mention that when the devastating floods hit the same area recently, that same family had the bridge to its house destroyed — the one that was just rebuilt after the fire. The house was fine this time — you just couldn’t get there. Huh. Perhaps the “believe” rock transcends all disasters, and I’m betting that little rock crossed their mind when the flood waters were raging.
After all, to believe gives hope, hope that there is more to this story called life, hope that we never lose perspective regarding how scary, baffling, exhilarating and fascinating it can be. To the family — thanks for giving us perspective, through yours.
Perhaps we all need a “believe” rock in our lives — especially this time of year. After all, life can be messy. Behind the scenes and out on the streets, firefighters, EMS personnel, cops and dispatchers answering 911 calls see the messiness up close. The stress, the drunkenness, the hurriedness, the family disturbances, the deep loneliness, the incessant accidents and upside down cars, the “Disney on Ice” event called the Interstate 70 commute; you get the picture.
But there’s more to the story, thankfully. There’s the stuff “believe” rocks are made of — the little kids that stop by the fire house with a plate of homemade cookies with the not so strategically placed sprinkles, the restaurants that bring an extraordinary Christmas meal every year, the benevolence and charitableness of strangers, the bell ringers, the anticipation, the spontaneous caroling, the excitement and hope and the chance to experience the reverence of what goes far beneath the superficial in the act of giving. Whatever this season means to you, take a moment before you turn the page and believe in something. Anything real and pure — maybe that your kids will clean their room or give you an unanticipated hug, or that you will rekindle the love for your spouse or will find a spouse, or that the dog won’t throw up the turkey carcass he just ate, or that your relatives will choose not to stay until New Year’s, or the fact that just being together is more important than the gifts you give. Most importantly, soak in the truth that you have another day on this earth in which to believe.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays — oh, and don’t forget to give your Christmas tree water. Stay tuned ...
Mark Miller is Vail’s fire chief.