Fireworks

I, for one, have had my share of fire. 

At age five I watched our town’s theatre burn. Standing in our yard at 112 Short Street in Prophetstown watching the flames envelope what seemed like my whole world, I couldn’t really understand what was happening.  I only knew something had changed that would forever shape our town’s history. 

This week, decades later, I had the horror of watching it all again, this time on the six o’clock news.  And this time I know full well the devastation that follows and the new world order my home town will have to embrace.

Fire has always lived on the fringes of my awareness.

For many years I lived in the high desert, where forest fires were a constant threat.  Living in the Land of Enchantment had its price.  The real currency there was not cash but cool, clear water.  One lightning bolt or careless camper and the whole forest could catch fire.  Lives, homes, property, wildlife, and ecosystems could be destroyed.

When I left the high and dry lands of New Mexico for the flat and humid lands of Illinois, I was startled awake not once but twice to the terrifying sight of hay bales burning at an alarming rate and firemen rushing to the rescue.  Watching the product of all that labor go up in smoke was enough to make me move closer to water.

So in November of 2007, I took a job in a quiet Iowa farming community, comforted by the fact that a river runs through it.  Within three months of moving to Maquoketa, the downtown was on fire. The smoldering didn’t stop for days. The destruction gaped like an open wound for two years as the clean–up stalled and the downtown lay partially paralyzed.   

I remember standing on the steps of my home a few blocks from downtown that seriously cold Saturday in January when the town was ablaze, feeling just like I did when I was five standing in our front yard in Prophetstown.  I still couldn’t grasp the full significance the fallout of a major fire would have.  I just knew it was bad, I felt terribly sad, and firemen were good.  Very good.

Then came the frantic call on the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving in 2010.  The building on our farm we thought was fireproof that housed our office,  garage, farming equipment, and every conceivable farm tool burned like it was on a mission to prove us wrong in the shortest time possible.

My dad was devastated, my mom was heartbroken, and my nieces had their version of trauma by fire to tuck away in their nightmares.  Firemen everywhere were elevated to saints in my book.

Watching a fire burn your possessions, your memories, your business, or your livelihood is a surreal experience.  There is a finality to it that is simultaneously sobering and liberating.  The realization that everything is on loan to us for this short ride around the sun suddenly sinks in.  As long as lives are not lost, we can recover, rebuild, reboot.  Like a phoenix, we can rise from the ashes.  However, we might just need a minute.

The grief for what is lost comes in waves.  Many times it’s the $2 plastic sun and moon chair that a friend gave us or the box of photos from our glory days that cause a greater sense of loss than the major appliance we may have temporarily stored in the burning building.

Ultimately we can let a fire define us or allow it to refine us.  We can be the victim of a fire or we can realize how very much we have to be grateful for that cannot be taken from us.  Of course, the jury may be out while the loss is still fresh and the feelings are raw.

It always touches me how a community comes together after a disaster.  I truly believe we are all everyday heroes just waiting for a chance engage our superpowers and do something meaningful, helpful, and caring for another person. 

Whatever your faith or whatever you believe, the prayer ceremony at Eclipse Square in Prophetstown on Wednesday night helped the community heal.  The bricks the firemen handed out gave people something tangible to hold on to.  This is how we move on.  Moment by moment.  Brick by brick.

With that in mind, I’m  also going to politely ask “the powers that be” that we be given a break from the fireworks for now.   Perhaps we could simply be allowed to flex our superpowers in small yet significant ways to those who show up in need of them?

But for good measure, I might just marry a fireman.