What I Share with Sandy's Victims

Watching those left in Sandy's wake prompts memories of a long-ago fire and its simple lesson.

by Donna Lewis • More.com Member { View Profile }

My poor mother. She must have thought someone was sick or had died. I'm pretty sure she didn't expect the news of a building burnt down. My parents reacted the way I now understand they will always react. They were relieved that nobody was sick or dead. To my parents, anything short of that is just not worth being upset over. It's a good quality and a bad quality. Sometimes, when bad things happen, you need people to say things like, "Oh My God, I can't believe it" or "I don't know how you'll go on."

My parents would never say anything like that. Their opinion is that of course you'll go on since you really have no choice.

I can't describe how empty I felt that day and for the next weeks ahead. I had nothing. There was nothing left of my things or my routine or my life. I felt very tired, like I just didn't know what to do next. 

My parents gave me a credit card and told me to go shopping. I'm sure that sounds great, but it's awful. It is almost impossible to build a wardrobe from scratch. It's depressing. I remember buying a few pairs of corduroy pants, a few tops and boots and that was what I had. That was pretty much all I had for quite some time. In a way, it was easier to have very little than to make decisions about what a new life should look like. If I could go back, I would tell my 21-year-old self that there's never a rush to make your life look like something. Just keep moving forward and your life will emerge.

Oddly enough, it was probably my brother who was most affected. A day or two after the fire, my parents and brother went to see the damage. I don't remember going, but I must have at some point because I have memories of thinking how little is left after a fire. It was quite a large building of several stories and yet, after the fire, there was very little on the burnt ground. I'll have to ask my brother. He'll remember.

My brother came home from the visit very sad. He had been looking for my “diaries” — although by that point in my life I had journals. He believed that I would be most upset about losing my writing. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I would probably have looked for my jewelry first. The good thing about writing is that you can always write more. And, for me at that age, re-reading old writing wasn't that enjoyable. I had been a moody and depressed teen. My writing was not exactly a fun read. To this day, I believe that my brother has a hair clip of mine that he found smoldering in the ashes. That one gesture made me love him more than I had already loved him, which was a pretty huge amount.

I moved very soon after the fire to an apartment building located a mile from the fire. The apartment was completely empty except for a sofa and an old television my aunt had given to me. I think the sofa was probably hers too. I don't remember. The closet was empty except for a few hangers that held my tiny new wardrobe. Eventually, someone gave me an old bed and I bought a sofa. I remember that the apartment had an echo from being so empty.

It's hard for me to think about the fire or the first week after the fire. The pain was indescribable. I recall feeling like I would just melt into the ground. I couldn't imagine what I would do about anything and was paralyzed with emptiness.

But here's the weird thing.

Within a few weeks, I was enjoying my new freedom. I had very few possessions, and I liked it. I liked that my world really just revolved around me. I liked the simplicity.

It's very hard to think about what life would have been like without the fire. I don't know how long I would have stayed in that building or whether I would have ever met my best friend, who I met a few years later. Maybe every single thing in my life would have been different. I don't know.

What I do know is that possessions mean very little to me these days. Now don’t think I’m saying I don't like my stuff. I do like my stuff. In fact, I LOVE my stuff.

But I'd be fine without my stuff. Stuff can be replaced. Even the sentimental stuff can be replaced. The stuff is actually much less of you and your life than you think it is. But it seems like a big deal when you're scared to death of losing it.

Share Your Thoughts!