The work we have done this week in recovering from the fire has been hard. It has been that moment squeezed into a ball that finally springs forth. In the worst sort of pun, once it sprang forth, the ball was rolling. As it began to roll, we saw that it really was that simple.
We lost our home in a wildfire. We lost what identifies us, not as spiritual people or in relationships directly, but the things that define us in time and space. We lost our sense of place. Finding your sense of place, or even knowing that you have one is special. The fire taught us about how strong our sense of place was. For the past 13 years we lived in that house on that place on this spot on the earth and did not know how deep our roots had grown. When they were abruptly ripped from the earth by the all-consuming fire, we had no ground to stand on.
Sense of place is the connection of one’s identity to the place in which they live: their connectedness to the land, the geography, the climate, the physical places and public spaces that make a specific place identifiable. When one’s sense of place is strong, efforts to redefine the sense of place are emotionally intense.
After the fire it took us a while to recognize that part of the agonizing confusion we felt was not just because we lost our stuff but because our stuff was in a particular place on this earth that was uniquely identifiable as our place. Not having that part of who we are required us to spend a great deal more effort in the simple acts of daily life.
For months I have said “I want to go home.” Before this week I did not really understand what that meant. I knew the surface meaning of what home was but I am now learning the underpinning of the ordinary meaning. On the surface home was the place where I went to after doing battle with the world. For years I traveled and worked in high-pressure situations. I decided on what clothes and what make up and what hair styles and what shoes to choose based on whether or not they would hold up to working a full day and then either going out to a long business dinner or flying back from Washington, DC to Idaho.
Home was where I did not have to think about every word and who might interpret what I said and how. It was the place I could wander around in my nightgown with a cup of coffee and not have negative consequences from it. Home was safety and rest.
When our home burned, we lost a little of our sense of safety but not much. We were lucky, some of the people in our fire had to drive through walls of flames to escape. We could feel the fire bearing down on us and the urgency to flee but we did not feel like we were going to die.
What we did lose our sense of rest. We are both full-tilt people when we are at a task. We rest at the same full-tilt. We rest completely and doing that for us includes having a quiet and uncluttered life. We are not very social. We have dinner with friends a few times a month but mostly we spend time reading or watching movies or fussing on the computer or cooking together or other similarly quiet activities.
Having our sense of place disrupted has disrupted our ability to rest. We have had more people coming and going and meeting and doing in the past 5 months than we do in a couple of years of our ordinary life. We are happy to be involved in the activity of rebuilding our life. We have been touched deeply by the number of friends and family who have come to see us and to help us reorient our lives. I am not sure how we would have been without the love and generosity of our friends, family and even strangers. I don’t think we would be doing very well. Still, all of the doing and being cared for drains our energy which is already sorely taxed.
Not being able to rest draws ever more deeply on our precious reserves. It is simple things. It is the ability to blunder to your chair with coffee in one hand, the newspaper in your mouth and your laptop and all of your papers starting to slide out of your other hand. It is not the chair, or the coffee, or the laptop or the house. It is the definition of one in space and time. At this time I am in this place. This place is a place that is familiar and I can spend energy being here rather than figuring out how to be here. It is a fine distinction but it is a huge difference.
Figuring out how to be here is not dissimilar to entering into a new relationship. The relationship is exciting and interesting and holds promise. It also has a demand characteristic that you think about how you present yourself. You listen carefully to the other because the muffled u-huhs that get you though long conversations in old relationships are meaningless here because you don’t know what is coming next. It requires care and attention to every movement and every thought and every action. You are figuring out how to be there.
Being there rather than figuring out how to be there very different. It is like communicating in your native language. You know what the words mean and you know how to put them together to say what you mean. General communication works. You can spend time using words that are more precise or better explain what you mean but you don’t have to. Your at-hand knowledge is enough to go on most of the time. You are not faced with a constant search for the right word or the right way to understand things. It is a comforting sort of auto pilot that is good for everyone. In children we call it developing a sense of independence. They can do things on their own without having to figure everything out every time and needing assistance to do it. Not having to figure out how to cross the room with the slippery laptop, the news paper and the coffee is important for the energy it does not take.
So, we learned that it is as simple as that. The world is an amazing and energetic place but you need to have a place to re-energize. For us, that is home, it is our place in the world. It is defined by our connection to the land, the geography, the climate, the physical places and private spaces that make our specific place identifiable. It is our place of respite. We are tired and we know we have a place in the world that will let us rest. We can wait with some composure for our home to be now that we understand it is as simple as that.