I’m taking a break from featuring one of our suppliers in this issue because the one-year anniversary of the firestorm is just days away. Some things in life take precedent over work.
One year ago I was:
· Mowing my lawn and pruning our rose bushes.
· Ordering my wife a birthday cake from Baskin-Robbins.
· Shopping for a birthday present.
· Preparing at work for our Fantastic 4 two day cloud compute training event.
· I walked past our rows of keepsake boxes in our garage each morning to get into my car.
· Talked to our neighbors as Jessie and I took a walk around the neighborhood after work.
· Filed receipts and other important papers in my file cabinet.
· Picked out my shirt and pants from rows of clothes in my closet.
· Cleaned my fish tank, and watered plants on our backyard deck.
We didn’t see it coming… nobody did. No mind could have imagined the entire community burning to the ground… Not just our home, not 10 homes, not 100 homes… but 5,600 homes. The entire community that I knew to be Santa Rosa would be erased off the map in just a few days.
As I reflect on that event, here are some things that we will never see again:
· My Mom’s precious oil paintings. She passed away 18 years ago, and her priceless work adorned most of the walls in our home.
· Junior high, high school, and college yearbooks – with all those corny things written in them.
· Pictures of our childhood. They weren’t digital back then.
· Offer letters I got from different colleges.
· The letter from the Denver Broncos inviting me to try out for punter.
· Jessie’s memorabilia from her professional softball days in Switzerland, and from her coaching the Swiss national Olympic team.
· Jessie’s favorite softball glove, it was an extension of her.
· Photo albums of our families, some were black and white, and even Polaroid.
· Special things each of my kids made when they were little.
· My son’s George Washington hat that he wore in his first-grade play. I still can recite every word of his poem.
· My parents have both passed away, so literally every material thing from their lives were in our garage. Same thing for our grandparents.
· Our house was filled with little trinkets from events we’ve attended, trips we’ve taken, and gifts we have given each other over the past 4 years of being together.
· Signed baseballs and softballs from teams I had coached that my kids were on for over 15 seasons.
· My older daughter’s graduation hat from Chico State.
· Heirloom stained glass art from Jessie’s family.
· We left our house in a rush at 1:15 AM. We didn’t take anything but a pair of pants, and a couple of shirts. We had no idea what was happening. We had to rush out because the burning embers were all around us, yet we didn’t actually comprehend that our neighborhood would burn down.
A few months before the fire, Jessie and I went through each of our keepsake boxes and showed each other the articles in each box. It was so nice hearing the stories of why each article was important to her, and vice-versa.
It’s been a difficult year. Our story is not unique, but it is unique to us. We have gone through the predictable stages of grief. We have cried a lot, misdirected our anger onto each other, and we have been each other’s safest place. We have gone to counseling and therapy. And, we have been loved on by our community.
Some of the things that we have learned include:
· Living with less is good, even though we’re not quite minimalists. Just two days ago I realized we didn’t have an electric mixer. I wanted to make Jessie a birthday cake, and I didn’t have a mixer. So we bought one. I’m hoping that we have finally bought everything we need. We haven’t been able to replace many of the “toys” we had, but we have what we need.
· We rent a nice little 900 square foot cottage in Petaluma. We can vacuum the entire house without unplugging the vacuum. And we wouldn’t trade it for anything! Our landlords are angels. Really, they are…
· Petaluma is cool. It is just like Santa Rosa was when I was a kid. People are nice. They are kind. They stop and talk to you. They stop their cars and let you walk across the street in front of them.
· We had no idea how loving people could be. Everything we owned was reduced to ashes, except the credit card debt we used to buy the stuff. I didn’t have any renter’s insurance, so starting over was a huge financial struggle. We kept track of every gift card, donation, and gift that was given to us. Over 200 people stepped up to help us get back on our feet. Literally everyone’s name is on a poster in our living room.
· People that we didn’t even know reached out to us with gifts, cards, and prayers.
· My adult son and daughter that live out of town called us twice a day for a long time to make sure we were okay. That alone is priceless.
· We drive slower. We aren’t always in a hurry to get somewhere. We just leave earlier and enjoy the journey.
· Sometimes when I drive home from work, I pull over for a few minutes and enjoy the sunset.
· Every picture we take is stored in the cloud. Every important paper is stored in the cloud. And, we have renter’s insurance.
A year ago we didn’t see it coming. Nobody did. The days and weeks after the fire, we felt like we were in a small boat in the middle of a storm. We just held on to each other. We took care of each other. When one of us had no energy or emotion left, the other person came through like a champ.
There are worse things that life can bring. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and sudden loss of life are just some things that are much worse. We all deal with different pain and challenges. Nobody has it easy.
The bottom line: The human spirit is resilient.