When The World You Know Disappears

Catastrophic Loss is Very Difficult to Accept

Dear Readers: I would give anything to not have to write this column.

On September 6th, Roni and I and our two dogs went on a five mile morning hike out our front door in an area called Fourmile Canyon. We went on a trail I have hiked literally hundreds of times. I called it the Indiana Jones Loop Trail. About 10 am, we stopped to look at a tiny mountain museum that opened nearby a couple of years ago.

At the very time we were standing there, someone phoned in that a fire had started a mile away. We, of course, didn’t know what was going on a mile away, and were unaware that anything was amiss. As we were hiking back to the house, we could smell smoke, but the house itself was fine. I could hear airplanes and helicopters nearby, so I figured that whatever the problem, it was under control.

I figured wrong. There were no planes or helicopters there. I had been listening to the roar of an approaching forest fire raging toward me. I had never heard that sound before, so I misinterpreted what I was hearing. But when I saw flames on my mountain approaching my home, I hurried the dogs into the car and told Roni we have to leave RIGHT NOW. Driving down, Roni saw our neighbors house ablaze.

On September 14th, the fire was contained and residents of my mountain were permitted back to see their houses. It is very hard to describe what happens when a beautiful green wooded mountain environment is burned, but it is an extremely surreal sight. Virtually all the trees are dead, all the vegetation is gone, nothing is alive, nothing is green, everything is covered in dark ash and my property is now overlooking hundreds of thousands of dead trees.

And my home no longer exists.

Nothing from my house survived. Everything I owned is gone. Burned unrecognizable.

What we know now is that the fire came right through Indiana Jones Loop straight to my mountain, which means that had we left the house 45 minutes later, we would have been on foot with the dogs as the fire overtook us, and we would have certainly died.

We didn’t die. My house did.

Those of you who are regular readers of this column may remember that 17 years ago, I wrote of having a house fire and losing everything I owned. Nine months ago, in this very space, I wrote of the long, arduous, torturous, emotionally painful process it was to recover from the catastrophic loss that was my first fire. Now, incredibly, I am having to recover from the same thing all over again.

Since I am something of an expert on this by now, I can promise you that recovering from catastrophic loss requires harnessing all of your inner resources and personal reserves. I am fully aware that some of my fellow fire victims will never recover from this loss. Some people are completely defeated by adversity, bad luck or misfortune, and they live out the rest of their lives bitter, defeated, angry, hopeless and with a chip on their shoulders.

But that is not me. This will not defeat me. It will be a royal pain, but I will recover.

Next week I will discuss what you can do in order for loss to not defeat you as well.

“The world breaks everyone and afterwards some are strong at the broken places.” —Ernest Hemingway

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