SAN DIEGO – WHAT I GAINED IN THE FIRE

…. there is still much we can gain if we're paying attention.

525,600 minutes. 525,000 moments so dear. The big hit song from the musical Rent, Seasons of Love, keeps playing over and over in my head. How do you measure a year in the life? I’ve heard it on Broadway, on the radio, in church and in every karaoke bar across the nation. Even though the math isn’t quite right, (I remember last leap year doing a recalculation and trying, unsuccessfully, to sing it with the adjusted lyrics – don’t bother) I’ve always liked it. I’ve had to say good bye to quite a number of important people in my life and at those times I seem to always I think of this song. How do you measure a life? You measure it in love.

It popped up in my head again yesterday as I was frantically packing a bag as part of the mandatory evacuation for the approaching

San Diego

fires. It was like playing that values clarification game they tried to get us to play in grade school. “If you were on a life boat and could only save 2 people and your choices were: a. a non-descript elderly person, b. a non-descript challenged person, c. a movie star with perfect teeth and d. a charming young Senator/presidential candidate from

Illinois

, who would you save?” I never liked that game. I don’t think I have enough Vulcan blood in me. I especially didn’t like it yesterday while trying to pack. As a confirmed ‘metro-sexual’ (or whatever the term is these days), single man, how was I supposed to choose which designer fragrances, hair products and clothes would make the cut? Is it worth living, if living is without Armani? One should not have to pick between D & G and Prada. They both have very different uses and fulfill very distinct functions in my life. And, don’t even get me started on my wardrobe! I looked again, in disgust, at the smallness of the bag I would be able to carry with me and resigned myself to just make do. As I went out to the garage to further expand my options, and felt the burning sensation in my lungs and the stinging in my eyes, my perspective had a sudden shift. I saw a young mother trying to shield the eyes of her newborn while carrying two bags on her shoulders and dragging a third bag behind her all the while assuring her toddler that everything would be alright, the shelter would be fun, like a camp out, and that it was OK that daddy wouldn’t be able to join them tonight because he was busy putting out the fire, but that she was sure he was just fine. It seems we were all playing the “what’s most important?” game and doing what we could to make the best of a difficult situation. After helping her and her children get safely into their car and seeing them off, my attitude freshly adjusted, I went back to packing a few more items and prepared to leave.

I was very fortunate to have a family member working at the airport and we were able to secure a room at a very nice hotel complete with an ocean view, a pool, a spa, a gym and a complimentary dinner. We went out and got ourselves a bottle of wine, a pint of Hagen Das and settled in for a night of fire watching courtesy of our favorite newscast team. From our balcony, I could see the distant flames reaching upward and billows of smoke filling the air, turning the moon a haunting red. I wondered how that young family was doing tonight. If the young woman’s husband was the one recently reported killed and if, indeed, everything would be just fine for them when this was all over. Their situation was driven further into my mind as a late-night talk show host welcomed Academy Award winning actress

Halle

Berry

on his show to promote her new movie “What We Lost in the Fire” and I felt a familiar, yet unwelcome chill.

Perspective is a funny and fickle thing. We don’t often realize when we’ve lost it. We rarely notice when it’s in need of alignment and we’re often surprised by where, and how, these epiphanies and adjustments occur. Yet, unlike other uncomfortable emotional shifts, we usually find ourselves feeling profoundly grateful and sincerely better for having had such a self-revelation.

I spent most of today (at least 483.5 minutes, if anyone was counting) waiting in the hotel lobby, checking email, connecting with family and friends and watching the unfolding news. My sister and I are volunteering at the airport this evening to help stranded passengers, and then, according to the latest news report, we will be able to safely make our way home to, supposedly, resume our normal lives. Yet, I doubt if normal will have the same definition as it did just a short 1,440 minutes ago. And yes, I am grateful. I know a lot of people lost a great deal in these fires – things that will change their lives forever. I only hope that somehow, collectively, we show a net gain in the realm of perspective. I have no idea how many minutes I have left. And, I don’t know if anyone will be counting. But I do hope that they will count.

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