It is close to mid-day and wind is blowing with a ferocity that reflects Mother Nature’s fury. The temperature today is going to soar to 37 degrees.
The grass fire that was brought under control at Pialligo yesterday (which led to the evacuation) has reignited and is showing a red alert.
Another one has broken out in Phillip, just 3 kms away from my home and is showing out-of-control in the Fire Alert App I have downloaded on my phone.
I wouldn’t have known but for my daughter who texted to alert me. That pressed the panic button. I should prepare to flee. If the wind brings fire to my direction, it will not take it long to reach my home. My non-existent fire plan has just two water hoses which will be completely ineffective in this wind. I will not be able to save the house that is evident. Fleeing is my only option.
If I am to run away, which will be at the notice of five-minutes, what will I take with me? It is a question like the one I tackled once in a writing workshop – if you find out you are going to die in six months, what will you do in those six months?
Just like I would live my life condensed in six months, I should pick up the things that matter the most. But which ‘things’ mattered the most? What should I take with me?
I go from room to room trying to figure out. What can I salvage and what can I leave at the mercy of the fires? Perhaps nothing. All that clutter, which is a cause so much frustration on a daily basis suddenly feels so endearing. This clutter is somehow attached to my identity. It can’t imagine my life without these unnecessary things I have collected over the years.
Or, can I?
I know fully-well that when the time comes, I will leave everything as it is. I will save my life and life of my loved ones more than anything else. And when I come back, after the havoc, to the site where my house stood one day, I will cry for their loss. The things I thought I couldn’t live without will now live in my memory and I will continue to live my life.
This is how versatile we are. We spend our lives working like mad, earning money so that we can buy lots of things, well aware that none of them matter. Yet it is so hard to part with them. They do have some sort of meaning in our lives. Our possessions root us. To the place where we live. They bring a sense of belonging. Without them, we feel empty.
Maybe this trait of defining our identity with the stuff we accumulate separates us from other animals whose existence is complete without any possession. While ours depend on our possessions. The more we have, the more settled we feel.
As I think of these wild thoughts, I begin to understand the agony of hundreds of people who have lost their houses to fires in the last few weeks. The whole nation is mourning over their loss but as Joan Didion said, “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.”
Winds are getting fiercer and fiercer. I am feeling a curious blend of anxiety and calmness. It is one of those moments when you just want to leave everything in God’s hands and resort to prayer. A place of hope at a time of helplessness.
I move from room to room making a mental note of things I should grab if I have the time and the inclination to do it but make no move to gather them in boxes as I did seventeen-years-ago when a terrible fire took Canberra in its grip and burned hundreds of houses. While I do that I take pictures of the ‘things’ in each room so that I could morn them if fires consume them.
I wish you well. I pray for your homes to remain safe. And I beg forgiveness from Mother Nature.