Fire brings a spiritual re-alignment, a crackling pop of a psychic chiropractic adjustment. There is an Aha! of what is really important, and what is not.
The Oakland Hills Fire revealed my ultimate priorities. It gave me the courage to leave my cozy burrow in the hills above the romantic city and migrate to a better place. A friend who also landed here in Big Sur afterwards commented, "That fire was one of the best things that's ever happened to me." I would have to agree.
One of my favorite stories is from my neighbor who, after jumping through flaming hoops to get home, realized just as he came through his front door that nothing in the house was important enough to take. He walked away from it all, and then in the end, his home was safe.
When you lose all of the personal items that somehow define who you are, you release an anchor chain that stretches to the bottom of the sea. That chain, swirled in tendrils of green muck, drops to the floor as the ship sails free. Instant lightness of being. Your focus is freed up to be in the moment as there is less care and feeding of "the stuff".
And then, something magical happens. You see all living things in a new light -- and all your experiences become filled with wonder. For about a week. That state of grace which I enjoyed after the Oakland Fire made me fearless about facing a crisis, and left me floating upward, with the alchemical flames, into a new life.
I can still see the word Samsara almost jumping off the perfume bottle at my friend's house a week after the fire. Of all the assorted toiletries in the medicine cabinet "Samsara", a concept I was just beginning to grasp, was suddenly as crystal clear to me as the label on that glowing vial.
In dreams, my missing cats reassured me that they were napping in the sunshine on the other side. Years later I learned my future husband had stood beside me on that nightmarish afternoon, watching news broadcasts of the disaster at a pub in Noe Valley.
The fire taught me that the capacity for grief is directly proportional to the capacity for joy, that there is always a blessing hidden in tragedy, that angels do, in fact, watch over us all.
The illustration above was done by my friend Dave Ember, who worked as a graphic artist for the Oakland Tribune in 1991. He wrote a lovely poem on the original, which he gave to me.
of the future
spring forth from
the ashes of the past --
float with the flame."