The California wildfires rage just above my house. The air smells of burning brush and soot. White ash covers most of the cars exposed to the elements. I should be scared. I am scared, but not panicked. I’m a rational thinker especially in the face of certain danger. I’m not sure whether it is my military training, single parenting prowess, the catastrophic course of a hurricane hurling toward my hometown, or my innate analytical skills honed through years of dating pathological liars, that have brought me to the great problem-solving skills I currently possess. I’m just grateful I am who I am. As I watched the flames flicker and dance through the sky, I was both horrified and mystified simultaneously. When the neighboring town was ordered to evacuate I thought, “What’s worth saving and what can perish?” Then, a familiar voice filled my head. It was my mother’s. Deceased 14 years yet ringing out loudly and clearly she reminded me, “If there’s ever a fire, grab the pictures and run. Everything else can be replaced.” I thought about that for a moment. Grab the pictures. Run. Everything else can be replaced.
Four years ago when my brother went into my home to evacuate our father, in the face of Hurricane Katrina barreling though the Gulf of Mexico, he asked me what he should grab that was mine. I spouted off a laundry list of papers, pictures, and mementos that for me represented memories. I was luckier than most. When I buried my father this year due to liver cancer, not as a victim of the tragedy that was and is Hurricane Katrina, I had a host of photos with which to recant his life. My mother was right. Those snapshots in time, those moments, could never have been recreated without photos. Last night, as I listened to the choppers overhead sweep through our neighborhood (looking for the trail of wildfires not the trail of criminals) I thought about the irony of evacuating my home due to wildfires on the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As a New Orleanian I felt the comedy and tragedy of it all. I chuckled to myself and thought, “Ain’t this some sh*t?” (That’s a good ole fashioned New Orleans phrase that seemed to fit the mood.) Life has a way of throwing you curve-balls just when you think you’ve mastered the fastball or the slider. It is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. I’m down for the cause, up for the fight, and I’m not stoppin til I win. Yes, death is inevitable and obstacles in life are inescapable. Hurt and disappointment go hand in hand with triumph and success. Hills and valleys, yadda, yadda, yadda. C’mon y’all. This is not new. Sometimes you just have to remind yourself that without one there would not be the other. Like the ying and the yang tattooed on my lower back (watch it sucka with that ‘tramp stamp’ stuff…) there’s a balance in the earth that cannot be ignored.
With the deaths of Ted Kennedy, Michael Jackson, Tom Clarke** and my father, to name only a few this year, I am reminded that life is short. And my time to make a difference is even shorter. I must seize the day – take hold of the time that has been allotted to me and make the most of it. If I should dwell on those unmet expectations, be they self-imposed or incurred by others, it should only be for a short while. I should remind myself that I am bigger and greater than any circumstance; I am built to withstand more than I think I can. In the face of certain danger there is and will always be a way clearly to the other side. I must only remain steadfast until the fires subside and the waters recede to emerge victoriously and take hold of my destiny. Then, and only then, will I make a hero’s mark in this world and earn a eulogy fit for the same. Mark my gravestone: Here lies she who faced the inevitable with the fortitude and faith to persevere without blame. Then, mark my name.
Persnickety Self-Adjustment: Time waits for no one. Get movin.
**Tom Clarke is the brother of a dear friend who died suddenly and tragically due to injuries sustained in a car accident on August 14, 2009. He was loved and will be missed.