I began this post 15 days ago (or so) and tried to work on it several times, but ended up giving up. It has all been so disorienting and difficult. And now, 6 weeks after the fire, we are realizing how many opportunities we have missed to move things ahead — opportunities we didn’t know we had. There is learning here, alongside the hurt. Here is the post I started, and the finish that will be “good enough.” Tomorrow I will post of more mundane, happy things (if I can get some pictures loaded).

All cultures have stories of great losses. Natural disasters, wars, disease, famine (usually comes with drought): the will of the gods.

Some cultures have redemption stories that begin with loss, or that end with loss.

I watched a TED talk today by a man whose neck was broken by a reckless driver, who spoke of the human spirit being the defining trait of an individual. Not our looks or abilities, not our education or social class, but how we deal with the situations that life throws us. I highly recommend his talk: Joshua Prager.

Many people in the last three weeks have remarked on how “well” I am coping with the loss of our home and companion animals.

I don’t know that I am coping particularly well. In fact, I have had emotional breakdowns (several) complete with screaming and crying and rocking back and forth. I have found myself at the end of the day with nothing accomplished other than one trip to the store and maybe a load of laundry. Today looks as if it will be one of those days. I have had a few days where I got a whole lot accomplished and then looked back and realized it’s a drop in the bucket and felt completely useless.

But I am actually coping, and it surprises me. I have always looked up to my mother and grandmothers as models for how to get through life. My mother’s mother, only a few years ago it seems told me that she was content with the way her life had turned out. I asked her if she would have preferred to have an actual career, finish college or be more influential, and she turned to me and said that her life had been just fine. For her era staying home with the children, a life centered on family, going to work nearby (she worked as a secretary for a boy’s home in the neighborhood for decades) was fulfilling enough. It hadn’t occurred to her to want more.

My father’s mother had an interesting life, full of upheaval and disappointments. A childhood that most people only read about in novels, full of luxury and governesses and such; a young adulthood of extreme poverty; an arranged marriage followed by single parenting, a war that split her family… the loss of her eldest child just as her life seemed to be opening up before her; taking in a grandchild for a few years; becoming a teacher late in life… Ultimately ending up retired in a college town that had amazing cultural opportunities, leading a mostly self-sufficient life with her last husband. She never spoke ill of people. She modeled doing the right thing always, and despite arthritis and at the end of her life memory issues, she always let people know she cared about them.

My mother was a military wife. She took care of the kids, packed and unpacked things, kept the house and did the cooking, helped in the schools and when the military career was over she went back to teaching. I only remember her being ill once when I was a child, and she was very ill indeed. She knew how to cook and sew, and taught us how also. She taught us how to play the piano. She included me in her teaching as often as I wanted: grading papers, preparing materials, listening to her talk. I asked questions, helped in the classrooms and learned that one needn’t be a “marshmallow” to be a kind and effective teacher. She taught me the virtue of buying one thing that would last instead of many inexpensive things that needed replacing and the virtue of buying only what is necessary. She also taught me the virtue of sometimes getting things because they are nice, rather than necessary; not everything has to be functional.

I watched my mother deal with losing friends, parents, pets. I watched her deal with the aftermath of a tree that fell on the house only ten years after a major remodel. I learned to be deliberate in choosing contractors and banks from watching her and learning from the things that did (or didn’t) work.

I don’t know if we are following all the right steps, I know that already it seems we are behind with many tasks that we weren’t aware had “deadlines” — and with our limited experience in this sort of thing we don’t know until after the fact that things could or should have been different. Already it has been almost 6 weeks. The house sits and waits for demolition while we slowly figure out the path to getting a loan and a contractor so we can move ahead.

Meantime, life goes on. At some level, in some way, it will be “okay” at some point. Right now, we just don’t know. We notice that a lot of things are irretrievably lost. Other things are changed, and don’t yet feel “normal.” Will they ever?

Life goes on.

It changes and we are changed. The key is how we are choosing to respond and how we choose to change in response to the events.

It isn’t “good” yet but there are more and more good moments. I rediscover every day what an amazing man Tom is, and how lucky I am to have him in my life. I appreciate every day that Grant is still with us, and that we will get to watch him mature into an even more incredible young man. I spend time at home as often as possible — in my garden, trying to reconnect and remember and move on. It’s easier at this time of year.

And that will be focus of tomorrow’s post.