House on Fire


november'12 004

Yesterday, I had nothing to talk about; today there’s too much.

Today, it seems that everyone is speaking up, collectively expressing grief and horror at the tragic events in Paris.

It is comforting to not be experiencing this alone.

But I recoil at many suggestions for what should happen next.

I am ashamed at my lack of knowledge when it comes to world politics. I don’t know how this conflict began, how it escalated, who is right, who is wrong. I am unqualified to agree or disagree with any statement at that level.

Still, it makes me afraid.

Yesterday, unable to think of something to write about, I consulted the “WordPress Writing Prompts Page.” This November could turn into a very difficult month, if I can’t come up with topics for my daily posts! Many of the suggestions I found there would have taken more energy than I have in any given day:

If you could master any skill in the world, what would it be and why?

Invent a definition for the word “flangiprop” and then write a post using it.

What is the most time you’ve spent away from your favorite person; what did it feel like?

A few of the ideas grabbed my attention, though.  One, called “Burning down the House” suggested this scenario:

Your house is on fire. You can save only five items. Assuming that all humans and animals are safe, tell what you would grab, and why.

First, I had to expand the “humans and animals” to include my houseplants, so that I wouldn’t be getting charred while debating which plants were most deserving. After that, it was easy.

It would be easy, too, because all of my choices are within a few steps of the back door. It would be just a few quick underhand tosses, and Rosa Parks and I would be out and safe.

  1. My big purse, handily hanging on the back of my desk chair. Because we all know how hard it is to replace driver’s license, credit cards and the like. The purse holds those, along with my cash and checkbook, a few dog treats, my camera, a couple shopping bags and – when I’m lucky – a bit of candy.
  2. An old photograph of my sister Brenda and myself, taken when we were maybe two and three years old. We have matching dresses and matching haircuts. Brenda mugs for the camera; I shyly look down and away. That represents a big step for me. In all the rest of my baby pictures, I am gazing adoringly at Brenda; in this one I am – albeit very meekly – asserting my independence. This picture has traveled with me from house to house; it always hangs where I can see it every day. I treasure it because I still adore Brenda, and because it reminds me of where I started out.
  3. A framed photo of my daughters, when they were three and six years old, running in the sand along the beach at Iron Ore Bay, here on Beaver Island. Of all of the ways I define myself, the most important, to me is “mother.” That’s not a designation I practice in my day-to-day life, now that my children are grown, but it’s still a big part of me. My little girls in the sunshine, arms all akimbo, with the waves and sand of this island…I’d have to save that picture.
  4. My computer. Because I’m taking this writing business seriously. With as many of the cords and connections as I can toss out with it. I’m counting both laptops and my laptop-sized scanner all together. Just one small stack…out the door. Because I am a writer.
  5. Poems by Emily Dickinson.  This well-loved, well-worn hardcover book, of all my books, would be most likely to bring me comfort after devastating loss. Turn to any page:

Had this one day not been / Or could it cease to be – / How smitten, how superfluous / Were every other day!

Lest Love should value less / What loss would value more / Had it the stricken privilege – / It cherishes before.

That’s my list…if my home were on fire.

As I look at the items I chose, I can see that they  each – in one way or another – hold the essence of my identity.

It’s not a bad exercise.

As we move forward in light of world events, I hope we are careful in our response. When the world is falling down around us, it’s most important to hold on to our identity. In reacting to inhuman acts, I hope we don’t leave behind the crucial essence of who we are.

4 responses »

  1. I’m glad you chose this prompt. It doesn’t really matter to me what you choose to save in case of a house fire, but why you choose to save it. Your items and the reasons behind them made me get to know you just a little bit more. You’re sentimental yet practical, and filled with aspirations. Hmm, sounds a little like me! Thanks for sharing.

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