(AP Photo/The Gazette, Jerilee Bennett)
The month of June in Colorado was hot as Hades, setting new records for high temperatures and wild fires that allowed themselves to be domesticated as they made residence in suburbs full of beloved homes and prized possessions. The relentless and determined fires took no prisoners as they rampaged through forests and neighborhoods alike.
Weeks were spent in temperatures above ninety-five degrees, smoke was inhaled through reluctant nostrils and air conditioning units sold out quickly and mercilessly.
Grass went from lush green to hopeless brown. People walked like zombies, too hot and tired to pick up the pace, any kind of pace.
July brought brief relief until a psychopath disguised as a joker carried out a deadly and murderous deed, killing a dozen and injuring fifty-eight others. An act so pernicious and evil, it boggled our minds and made the thought of the simple act of going to the movies a reason for fright and concern.
We had taken for granted the normalness of life and the flames and the insane snuffed out our innocence and stung our eyes.
For me, it had been one scorcher of a year. Everything had been torched. All sense of stability, security or love had been burned by one full sweep of a firewall. Months of disbelief and grief were followed by dry desert weeks where the tears visited less frequently, like the last bits of precious drops of water from the drought-ridden creek that finally runs dry. My tears of sadness had evaporated to form a dry and dusty pool of the remnants of a once full heart.
I lay prostrate on the hot burning ground with lips and soul parched and worn out. I waved the white flag of surrender because there wasn’t enough energy to do anything else. I slept fitfully without clothing, whether it was hot or cold. It was the only way I could breathe.
The house, once full of life and laughter, was hollow and silent. It had an echo to it, like the empty shell of an abandoned and dried up well that had lost its sense of worth.
There were pieces of me scattered all around. I was too listless to care. I had no compulsions to try to manufacture some false sense of strength to try to put myself back together again. My head was on fire but there was no fever. Acid-burned ghosts were taunting and yelling out accusations that I had been a stupid and foolish girl.
I covered my ears to stop the sound of the relentless question I knew would never be answered, “Why?”
I felt the sun beating down on me like the angry whip of a belt that was meant to instruct and teach and wondered if I would ever feel refreshed and quenched once again.
As is the nature of life, the fires subsided, rebuilding began, and candlelight vigils were held to remember the ones who had been so violently deprived of their good lives.
As for me, I slowly picked my way through the black and burnt remnants that remained of my life to see what was left. In my fatigue, I almost missed them. I had almost forgotten. But inevitably and gratefully I came across the gems buried deep in the pile of lost dreams and hopes. I gasped with joy when I saw them. As I eagerly dusted off the black soot and ash they had been covered in, I discovered they were beautiful and proud, brightly colored in vibrant emerald greens, royal blues, bold oranges and fierce yellows so bright they burnt my eyes.
I grabbed them with greed and held them tightly to my breast. I could feel the life in them pulsating and pressed them firmly against me as they embedded their messages of promise and renewal into my very being. Ashes of grief turned into diamonds of wisdom. Remnants of anger turned into seeds of compassion. The soot of sadness turned into joy.
I thought of the fires in the lives of those I know and those I don’t. And I remembered the gift of Choice. Terrible things happen to good people with no discernible rhyme or reason.
We are left with our own free will to decide what to make of it all. My mother used to tell me, “Make lemonade out of lemons” and I thought her trite. One who didn’t know me well said, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and I resisted the urge to vomit. “Things will get better, I promise” were assurances told over and over by those who had walked fiery paths before me and I doubted like Thomas.
Yet the gems and The One Who Always Knows reminded me that there is no life without the Fire. And I began to believe it was true. The other night, I slept soundly and deeply and surprised myself by awakening with a grin. Puppies were there to lick my face and greet my day. We bounced down the stairs like long lost friends and as they were blazing their way through their morning meal, I opened the curtains and blinds, allowing streams of brazen and welcome light into every room of my small house.
I skipped like a girl on the suddenly green grass thanks to monsoon rains and early morning dew. My garden had burst forth as if overnight and giant squash and zucchini adorned with lemony flowers were begging to be picked, sautéed in butter and garlic and devoured with glee and abandon.
Yes, the truth is that there is no new life without the Fire. Nature reminds us of this. It’s so hard to remember when the smoke and flames blind us, but the nature of life is change and life goes on, with or without us. With my newfound jewels still safely encased in my heart, I made a decision to go on with It and once again joined those who had been brave enough to set a good example before me. Those who had been stretching out their hands and love to me for months. The wise ones who understood the bitter and the sweet. The ones who refused to allow the flames to squelch their bliss.
Oh Happy Day.