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Eleven years ago I was in an apartment fire.

I awoke to a room filled with smoke at 5am.

We couldn’t get out the door, so we had to climb out the window on a ladder provided by a team of firefighters, who, thankfully, arrived quickly.

After all was said and done, we had to move.  The building was far too damaged to be inhabitable.  The firefighters had chopped a hole in our ceiling to make sure smoke could come out.

We were homeless.  I was traumatized.  I spent hours doing laundry at my child care job at the time.  We were able to secure a new place to live within a week, thank goodness, but staying with different people in the time in-between was not ideal.

The first question that I got (and still get) over and over again, even after all these years from everyone was this:

“Did you lose all your stuff?”

I get it.  It’s what’s on everyone’s mind.  I was obviously alive and doing okay enough to be in public.

“Did all your stuff burn?”

Starting over can be a huge thing.  We didn’t have insurance.

“Did you lose EVERYTHING?”  

Over and over again I got this question.

Being in this line of work, I’ve met some people who would be relieved to lose everything.  To start over.  To not have to deal with the clutter in their homes anymore.

Yes, it would’ve been hard to lose everything.  I didn’t – thank goodness.  There were some things that were pretty severely smoke-damaged that we had to leave behind, but I didn’t have to start over.

However, we didn’t know that at first.  As we stood on the sidewalk, watching the firefighters spray water and walk around on the roof, there was a brief conversation about whether or not anything would be saved.

There was a moment of panic – would all my years of journals be saved?

But honestly I was just happy to be alive.  Happy that my friends and loved ones were alive.  Happy that everyone was out and minimally injured (a women who was staying in the apartment below us jumped out a window and broke her leg.)

As I revisit this experience over and over again and people’s reaction, I have learned one important thing:  life is not about stuff.

There are things I enjoy, sure.  I didn’t have cats at the time, so if I would have lost them this might be an entirely different story.

My emotions after this experience were real.  I had a VERY hard time for months afterwards.  This apartment that we were living in had been the perfect place – the price was right and the location was great.  As working college students, the new place we moved to wasn’t affordable – not nearly as affordable as it would’ve been if we had more time to look before we moved.

We had basically had a brush with death.

“Did you lose all your stuff?”

There are many things I’ve learned over the years, as I reflect this fire-versary.  I could go on forever.

But the main thing is this:  life is precious – and it’s not all about stuff.

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