For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid of house fires. I can recall my mother telling me as a small child to be careful, to not do this or that, because it could start a fire.
I was 9 years old, when I first decided what I would save if our home should suddenly fill with flames. I chose carefully. These were, after all, the only items I could count on having were I to lose almost everything else. My favorite skirt, my New Kids On The Block trading cards, my cards and letters from my grandfather, and my little Casio keyboard all went into a cardboard box. I added sensible clothing as padding to protect the treasures, as my plan was to drop the box from my second story bedroom window.
There, I could finally breathe. I thought about it often and updated the specifics as I saw necessary. The box remained in it’s perch, under the window sill, until the summer I was 10 and my family moved to Arizona. Arizona is a daunting distance from where your kind-eyed grandfather lives in Kennewick, WA, especially when you are 10. I somewhat melodramatically resigned myself to the fact that what I would save was no longer close, and nothing I could put in a box really mattered. I did, however, place all of my cards, letters and pictures in a “memory box” like a junior hoarder in training, and secretly planned that this was what I would grab through the smoke if needed.
Through the years, I have thought many times what I would save, if I could. What would I risk the few precious moments left of breathing in my home, to rescue.
Now that I am a Mommy, there is no question where my priorities rest. Only which child goes in which set of adult arms, as we race down the stairs and into the front yard. Still, old habits are hard to kill, and I sometimes find myself thinking about what else, hypothetically, I would reach for. And for the record, other people think about this too, I submit the movie Leap Year as evidence #1.
Would I grab my cards and letters still? Or pictures, paintings, and the notebooks I have written all my poems and secrets on the lined pages of? No. I mean, I would like to have those, very much. But when I think of my family being reduced to such circumstances in an instant, I can only stomach the thought of grasping for things that will bring my babies comfort. Favorite stuffed animals and blankets. But even these would have to wait until all five of my children were completely safe, and I probably would not have it in me to leave them to go back for any thing.
We are all refugees, at our most basic components, aren’t we? All moving from place to place, looking for safety, and Home. I see it with the foster children I work with. So many come in with only the clothes on their back, sometimes with even less. They have less than I can think to throw in a box, and have lived through more in their few years than most people will in a lifetime. But they don’t give up. They keep going.
I am always, always, amazed by the resilience of foster children. They are strong, and brave, and full of hope. They cry for the Mothers that beat them, so sure that their parent will change because they love them. They take a stand against eating their vegetables, and over what clothes they wear. They say again and again, this is who I am. They laugh, and joke, and dance to horribly catchy Justin Bieber songs. Foster children know a secret. When you have lost everything, you haven’t.
So, instead of wasting any more of my life planning for fires that will hopefully never exist, I am reminded of what is actually irreplaceable. I don’t need mementos or any sort of souvenirs to cling to. What I have been so generously given will not sit under a window sill, they will barely sit in a time-out. While I will not, I hope that all the intangible things I try to give my children will live forever. That no matter what blazes they encounter in this life, that they will always have what matters, and know it. Because at the end of the day, love is the only thing that is truly fireproof.