Think about your house being on fire. There's so much planning that's supposed to go into this eventuality: break in case of fire. Call in case of fire. Double check the alarms, change the batteries, check the fire extinguisher. Clean out the dryer vents, get the chimney checked, have a meeting point, hide rope ladders under the bed to climb out the window. Stop, drop, and roll. But in the moment, what do you actually do?
Do you get dressed, if it's night, or just throw on a layer? Call 911 first, or get out first? Do you remember to block the door frame, stay low, test the knob? Do you wet a facecloth and hold it to your face? Do you have access to a facecloth, in this scenario? Mine are in the hall bathroom closet and will be unavailable to me. I'll need to substitute a T shirt. Do you remember the child, the pet, the favourite book? Do you just save yourself/other living beings, or try to save the photo albums, the laptop? What about the pet fish? What about Grandma's silver? Should you pack a bag, and have it in the closet at all times just in case?
When the large wildfire occurred just outside Timmins in 2012, we were leaving for a half marathon in Ottawa. We could see the pinkish-orange glow of flames on the horizon, smell smoke in the air, and there was a haze over the city. It seemed very possible that we might lose our home. I packed a plastic bin of laptops, photo albums, DVDs of home movies, and in the event of evacuation we asked our neighbour to rescue the bin, and the cat (the dog was staying with a dog sitter). What struck me, at the time, was how little of my home felt irreplaceable; we had a lot of things, of course, and would have been devastated to lose them all, but it also felt important to acknowledge that the single plastic bin contained the essentials. We had lived in our home, at that point, for fifteen years.
We all hope to be that person, in a crisis: the one that stays perfectly calm, keeps everyone organized, remembers what to do. It's hard to know for certain how you will behave until the event is thrown upon you. There's a fine line between being paranoid and being prepared; I've never come close to a raging house fire, and if I had, I'd likely have the bag and bin ready at all times. I'd likely be more consistent with the battery changes. I'd say we're pretty cautious in my household, but also pretty human; you can't just walk around fearing devastation around every corner.
Sometimes, we have difficulty getting rid of things. I often think, can someone else use this? My kids have quickly made it clear that the "perfectly good" lamp or chipped dishes are not high on their list of essential apartment items. Maybe a better approach would be, would I miss this in the event of a fire? Clothing, furniture, books, dishes: try it, see what you think. Such an exercise helps to bring clarity to the truly important.
Hi, I'm Karen. This space is a chance for me to get some of those notebook sessions out there: Motherhood, medicine, writers and writing, the state of the world. Non-published, sometimes non-polished, just a chance to open a discussion. Let me know what you think!