Things we lost in the fire…

It’s been a hard day.

The kind when you lament the absence of arms to sleep in, a hand to hold, or you have them both and are thankful in ways no word, thought, deed or action could ever express.

I don’t know what to write, really. How to start. Whether I should be writing at all.

All I know is that it needs to be out of me, away from me, somewhere where this feeling and I are separate and I can digest it.

So here I am.

Yesterday, a house fire razed my grandparent’s home to the ground. Everything destroyed, nothing salvageable. They’re alive, and for that every fibre of my being is bursting at the seams with relief. My love for them feels like it’s multiplied infinitely inside my chest.

It hurts but it’s good. Or that part is.

But there’s grief, too. Not quite as powerful but still; I cried for a long time last night. Until my eyes were empty and I couldn’t do it anymore. I fell asleep after that, knowing that but for the grace of God the day could have ended so differently.

People tell me my family is rare compared to others. To our fringe, we’re tight. We have our differences with each other, but we’re part of a whole and that means more to us than who ends up on the wrong side of an argument. Even a big one.

And we’ve had some big ones. My grandad and I haven’t always had the best relationship. We’ve fought and sometimes it’s been brutal between us. Forgiveness, at least on my part, has never come easy, or completely. You know those conversations you have – silent ones that are only for you but full of all the anger you want to hurl out from yourself when you feel wronged.

I’ve been angry.

But I realised yesterday, just how angry, for such a long, long time.

And it felt like poison.

It could have been so much worse. It wasn’t a house when it went up. It was a furnace.

And yet he ran back in, to save the bookwork that my nan has kept so meticulously by hand all these years. Which is just like him! To do the brave but terrifying thing.

I went to sleep with visions last night of beams falling, the roof collapsing.

And fire.

So much fire. I felt like my dreams should have been smouldering inside my head.

He could have been in there and I could have lost him. And it would have been unbearable.

My heart shook with the tenacity of grief that could have been.

Because it took the genuine possibility of losing him to make me realise he is my family. To make me realise that regardless of what we do or say, or how much it’s hurt before, I love him – I love them both – like the world is ending.

Why does it always take the loss of something to make us truly realise how much it means to us?

It wasn’t just this potential tragedy that had my heart in a vice, either.

You see, my grandfather is a writer.

A prolific one I might add – he’s been doing it for what I imagine has been the best part of fifty or sixty years.

I think, perhaps, this is where I got it from. This man who has driven me insane or to tears a lot of times in my life, is perhaps partly responsible for this – my greatest creative passion and love.

I’ll be honest – I had never found his stories appealing. To me they represented a social world that I, like most teenage girls in all their fanciful imaginings probably never found the least bit intriguing.

He gave me some of it once, to read over. Here I must admit it took me barely a few pages to become lacklustre in my efforts to take it all in. It was farmers’ wives, stockyards; an arid emotional landscape of the drought ridden Australian life. It was a world full of people I saw and knew every day.

And I gave it back, without a thought. Without a care. My regret, now, is palpable.

It wasn’t my kind of world, but it was his. He gave it to me, and now it’s gone.

It can never be gotten back.

I think of how much it terrifies me to give my writing to others, afraid that it will come back to me like a distasteful rock from a critical sling, telling me it’s not good enough. That all my nights and days spent building this world, my world and the people within it, are essentially a waste of paper and good CPU space.

It all seems so silly now.

Whether he felt this same trepidation, I will never know.

I can only surmise, because he doesn’t talk to me. All I know now, is that my fear of giving what I’ve done to others is a tiny thing. More than that, any pain now between us, on my part is small and water off a ducks back. I love him, regardless. That’s all that matters now.

My grandmother too, was amazing.

She has strength in her the likes of which is rarer and more unique than a fingerprint. She is a survivor. One who never stops believing that all things work for the good of those who love God.

Maybe someone else would be shaking their fist at heaven for something like this.

Shouting angry words at the sky.

But she’s not.

She’s alive; still here, and she knows it. She has her life and her husband, when so easily she could have lost both. Amazingly, she told me over the phone she was just sad she couldn’t go into the remains of the house to find her the pearl strand I’d bought her for her birthday.

Its 12 days until I am home now.

I know at some point I’ll be standing there, at the foot of that charred place.

Knowing my grandfathers writing is in there somewhere, as are my grandmothers pink pearls, and I will grieve for those things because they were precious.

But I’ll stand there with three far more precious things, still intact and within my reach.

The hands that penned those stories.

The eyes that offset the pearls.

And the knowledge that what I lost in the fire was not those I loved, but the shackles of petty grievances and hurts that had divided me from the people who matter more.


One response to “Things we lost in the fire…

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about the fire, your grandparents must be devastated! You’re right though, the important things are safe, and as is often the case, a great calamity brings a sense of perspective. I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my mum, but when she was seriously ill a few years ago it made me realise that while she might be a pain in the bum, she’s still my tiny, tenacious mother who’d walk over hot coals for me and maybe I should cut her some slack.

    “I think of how much it terrifies me to give my writing to others, afraid that it will come back to me like a distasteful rock from a critical sling, telling me it’s not good enough.”

    You have nothing to fear, your writing is more than good enough!

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