My friend Karin hosts a storytelling series in Santa Monica, California, at the Powerhouse Theatre, on the first Monday of each month. The themes are always loaded with potential directions and meanings and always seem to delve into at least a few that no one imagined. Tonight they’ll tell stories about “baggage.” In past gatherings, they’ve talked about gifts, and fat, and fires, and dozens of other things rich in imagery and emotion.

Alot of the time, when Karin has told me their theme for the month, I find myself with a story jumping into my lap, wanting to be part of the action. When she mentioned the theme of “Fire” a few months ago, it immediately brought to mind the story (and maybe song) that I haven’t yet written, about when my family’s house burnt down a few years ago. It happened about a couple months after September 11th, when the coverage of the New York attacks had starting to recede and the public seemed desperately ready to return to some kind of routine, some sense of regular life.

We were on our way too, clinging to normalcy and trying hard to let quiet daily life kick in, when a furnace leak in our basement store room ignited our home, and years of memories and clothing and christmas ornaments and childhood reportcards and photos and letters and wedding gifts were gone. Walking through the home where all of us kids grew up, and seeing it charred and caved in (or soaked with fire-fighting water and the spooky, almost crazily instant mold that began to grow everywhere), we could suddenly relate much, much more viscerally with the loss and frustration and displacement of many New Yorkers. The months afterward, like most dramatic aftermaths, was full of sadness and confusion and numbness, division and stress to the point of crisis; but also there were miracles, and spectacular shows of generosity, and moments of acceptance and steps forward and rebuilding and new strength.

A few months before our fire, I was talking to a woman at Ted and Shelly’s wedding reception, who mentioned that her home had recently burnt to the ground. I was immediately shocked and sympathetic (which is the typical reaction, we later found out), and talked to her quite awhile about it. At one point I asked, as sensitively as I could, if there had been any sense of liberation about it? Was there anything positive that came out of it? And she smiled at me politely as if I were just a bit out of my mind, and said “No…nothing.”

That wasn’t my family’s experience. But if we somehow choose the events that really test us in our lives, I’m sure we all choose them for different reasons and different rewards. And even within my family, I’m sure this has affected us all differently — changed the makeup of who we are in the way only fire can.

But this fire is just one of a dozen that I’d love to interweave someday into a long, engrossing tale. I’d recall Dena’s car accident, nights at Camp Tuckabatchee, cocoa campfires in high school, the incense in Kyoto temples, vespers and candles in the chapels of the Oxford Colleges in England, candles that spilled wax all over vintage tablecloths while dinner parties carried on far into the night, torches on our honeymoon, candles on the piano at Our Lady of the Snows at Alta, and the directive to begin meditating that I could no longer ignore over the last few years.

But for now just this. Today I’ll think about this memory of the last four years and the changes in my family and parents and our lives since, and how much fire has touched our lives.

Today I am Thankful For:
1. The things I love and treasure that trigger such beautiful memories in our home
2. The opportunity to clear out and release the stuff that I no longer need or want around me
3. That Billy’s coming out to visit in about a week
4. Really soft flannel sheets and heavy covers
5. Sunlight on the snowy trees this morning and the silky moonlight on the forest last night
6. The power of a great novel that pulls you in and rents a room in your mind for weeks

If you’re interested in finding out more about “Spark,” the storytelling series, please visit: or contact them by calling (866) OFF-MAIN (ext. 5) or e-mailing at

And please share some of your own “fire stories” here…

Leave a comment

Add comment