On the night of June 16, 1965 a police sedan drove down our flooded street, blaring a warning over a loudspeaker telling us to prepare to evacuate. At eight or nine years-old it seemed exciting. But my parents were stern and worried. The street in front of our house looked like a small river. And Bear Creek, a couple of hundred yards behind our house, carried a 12-20 foot crest coming down out of the mountains. We huddled in our living room with our most precious belongings in suitcases and stuffed in pillow cases waiting to evacuate.
From June 12 on, rain had been drenching areas of the Front Range, what we call the eastern slope of the Rockies. We had received as much as 12 inches of rain in one night. Earlier in the evening my dad, my sister, my brother, and I had driven to Ruby Hill (we sledded there in the winter) on the southwest side of Denver and watched the South Platte swell from a small river into what seemed like a raging ocean, growing to over a half mile wide.
We stood in awe, drenched by the continual rain, watching ravaged trailer homes, massive trees, and barges of debris rush down stream. This debris then caught on the bridges and eventually pushed them over into the river. Its power was unstoppable. Most of the bridges on the south side of town connecting west to east were taken out. At one point a police car, its red light flashing feebly in the gray night, raced down a road near the river as the road collapsed behind his car. We watched him as he drove out of sight hoping he could keep ahead of the river.
We were fortunate. Bear Creek never reached our house and I woke on the living room couch in the morning. The flood was abating and now all those who were not so fortunate began picking up the pieces.
The Colorado wildfires
That night came back to me as wildfires ravaged the Front Range these past few weeks. Thank God, we have had no fires near us, though we know people who lost their homes. And we keep all those suffering tragic loss in our prayers.
We do, however, live in what some call a “Red Zone”, an area where a wild-fire is likely.
“Not if there will be another fire, but when,” they say.
I’m asking myself, “If the ‘when’ comes, what will I save?”
Back in 1965 I packed my piggy bank that looked like a miniature safe and my Spiderman comics. I guess I thought those were my most precious possessions. Today I can only see them in my memory.
What would you save?
When it’s rainin’ fire in the sky, you ask what’s most important?
Today I would make sure my own family was safe. Then . . .
- To wax practical, legal stuff, wills, etc. Yuck.
- A couple of my hardback books: my own dissertation (just in case someday someone may read it), “Lonesome Dove,” “Peace Like a River,” “The Chronicles of Narnia.” This might be dangerous as I could burn up in my library deciding which books to take or my bag could get too heavy for me to make it out of the house.
- My journals from the last 30 years.
- My computer, as it holds all of my writing, and a lot of pictures, and my Bruce Cockburn and Van Morrison collection.
- More than anything, however, I’d collect things that have people memories connected to them: such as pictures and scrapbooks, my dad’s watches and old miner’s lamp, love letters, poetry, my mom’s John Elway memorabilia. Those kinds of things.
Oh, and . . . . You begin to see the problem.
I have heard several people who lost their homes in the Waldo Canyon Fire say things like, “As long as we are safe.” Or “We can rebuild.” “It can all be replaced.”
I only hope I can be that mature and calm if the day comes.
Moth and Rust Destroy
But the truth is, though Jesus rightly warns us against “storing up treasures here on earth,” the things that have traveled life with us–books, pictures, keepsakes, a home against the storm, the place we spent Christmas and Saturdays working together in the yard–have gathered meaning like moss on the north side of our lives. Their loss is not monetary only. Our things often represent a connection to the past, present, and future. And that connection is often to people–and even sometimes–to God. Losing the small wooden cross I have had since June of 1972 would be like the God chapter being ripped from my story. Maybe Jesus is asking us to ask about the eternal value of the things around us.
Things count. But for what?
As I look around my house for what I would save in an emergency, I see my father’s miners’ lamp (possibly handed down from my grandfather) sitting useless on my bookshelf. What I really want from it is a piece of my dad. I would love to know the story behind it. His story.
Maybe then the best thing to do in these times is not gather things but stories. Talk to each other more. Turn off Facebook, the TV, and ask, “Tell me all about your life. And don’t leave out a single minute.” Then listen. Because pictures will not fill the void. And too often things are not all we lose when we see it “rainin‘ fire in the sky.”
Eugene C. Scott has too much stuff and would like to get rid of some of it. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.