On Wildfires and Wind

Today I’m feeling vulnerable.

Last week, like most people, I watched the news unfold as wildfires spread across Colorado and consumed so many homes in Colorado Springs. Staring at images of flames consuming those houses, I felt the same sense of helpless shock as everyone else. I also felt a sickening sense of recognition. A generous portion of my heart lives in Colorado, where my husband and I lived for 10 years, where one of my children was born, where all my in-laws live, and where we spend Christmas every year. And those houses and neighborhoods I saw burning looked an awful lot like a home that kept my family financially and emotionally tied up for six years.

Six and a half years ago, we decided to leave our home in Colorado and move to Illinois, where I would start a new job. We put our house on the market right at what we now realize was the beginning of a recession and the housing market crash this country is still struggling to recover from. Unable to find a buyer, we eventually filled the house with renters who paid most of the mortgage payment each month, and off and on, tried to sell it a few times over the course of the next few years.

In the meantime, we carried the financial and emotional burden of the house on our shoulders every month. We worried our renters would move out or miss a payment, they would destroy the house, we wouldn’t be able to pay the bills, we would be ruined financially, no one would ever buy the house, we would have to give up our life here and move back there to make ends meet. Until we finally sold it last year, that house felt like a monstrous shadow, looming over every financial decision and every conversation about the future. And the whole time, it was just as vulnerable as those houses I saw on Facebook, flames leaping from their windows and curving over their roofs. There was something corrective in those flames—we had spent so much of ourselves wringing our hands over something so temporary, it could have been destroyed in a second.

This week—yesterday, in fact—we were hit by a powerful thunderstorm with 90-mile-per-hour winds that destroyed a 50-year-old tree in our front yard, along with many other tall, old trees in the area. It moved through quickly, in only about 20 minutes. But it left behind an awe-inspiring mess that could have been exponentially more destructive for all of us whose homes are relatively unharmed. Still, in minutes something that had seemed so strong was gone. And we now find ourselves without power for the second day, cut off from so many conveniences we don’t truly know how to live without.

These recent incidents were painful reminders of our own fragile nature and the impermanence of the things we attach ourselves to. Despite our best efforts to control all we can about our environment, we cannot master nature itself. We are intensely vulnerable to forces only God can control.

So I feel vulnerable for a reason—I am. As long as I’m being honest with myself, I can never believe I am truly safe. Like everyone, I am subject to forces I can’t control. I am threatened by multiple dangers—seen and unseen—every day. I am surrounded by the impermanent, shaky, and crumbling. Nothing is invincible.

What makes this so sad is that we were all made for a world of permanence and safety. It’s hard living, instead, in a place of fragility and destruction.

One of the great tragedies of life on this planet is the futility of our desire for attachment to something that will last, things that will not decay. Desperate to find these things in the world around us, we grasp at shadows and hold onto crumbling treasures even as they turn to dust in our hands. And we place our greatest faith in the things we build with our own hands, hoping against all sense that they will withstand what centuries of human creations have not withstood.

Here’s the antidote for the sadness of vulnerability: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). In other words, don’t get attached to the impermanent. Don’t put your heart into amassing what will not last. Everlasting truth, words to live by.

But the heartbreaking reality is this: While we can choose to spend our lives investing in the intangible treasures that will outlast us, we can’t escape the pain of life in a world laced with decay and danger. We are called to live here, and when we engage in this life, it’s impossible to detach from what makes it worth living. We are interwoven with other fragile beings. We spend our lives in work that may or may not matter when we’re gone. That’s life on this planet. We hate the things that cause us pain, but we can’t rid ourselves of them. And the more deeply we fall in love with the people and things we never want to let go, the more painful it is when we are reminded they are fragile and fleeting.

I look forward to life in a permanent place, where safety is attainable and guaranteed. Until then, I will try to remember—and wince when I am reminded—that I don’t live there yet.

1 Comment
  1. anonymous says:

    Finally! Honesty! Someone bold enough to say – “This aint heaven. Not by a long shot.” Pretending otherwise gets…confusing. The one “permanent” among all the impermanence: God’s personal inhabiting of our moments. We’re not alone even though He could’ve left us alone. A small “phew” for your wince, but big too. Thanks for writing this –

© 2012 Amy Simpson.