An Essay about surviving a fire in childhood

Surviving the Fire: My Childhood Near-Death Experience

I firmly believe that people share a greater connection with one another and with nature in a way that we’ve managed to discount, and to some degree actively, and intentionally disregard. There is so much more that we are capable of than we allow or accept of ourselves. I owe my life to the fact that my mother is open to at least recognizing and acknowledging even just some of the miraculous.

            My grandfather, my mom’s dad, lived for much of his life in Charlotte, North Carolina. My mother and I were staying in Charlotte with my grandfather for several months while my dad, who served in the military, was preparing for my mother and I to join him at his new station in Fussa, Tokyo, Japan. On one afternoon, in particular, my grandfather was at work and my mother and I were home. I was asleep in my crib. I was a couple of years old at the most. Mom, needing to go to the grocery store for some fairly urgent thing, was debating whether to wake me and go through the unbelievable hassle of managing my epic fits if woken prematurely or to leave me sleeping in my crib and to quickly drive to the store and hopefully return before I woke up. She decided to attempt the store run while I remained sleeping.

She was almost to the store when she became overwhelmed by a feeling, one that by intention was demanding that she return to the house and then wake me, but to then leave and return again to the grocery store.  My mom turned around and headed back for my grandfather’s house in Charlotte. She came into my room and woke me from my crib, I behaved as expected throwing a tantrum equaled only by an infant Zeus being told, “No,” as he reached for his fabled lighting bolt when feeling compelled to, “play.” My mom gathered our things and positioned me in the car which, in those days, meant that I was probably riding comfortably in the rear dash with my nose pressed tightly against the rear windshield. The two of us went about collecting her urgent grocery list before unloading the groceries and repositioning me on the rear dash and driving home singing along to Whitney Houston or Madonna.

We turned onto the street my grandfather’s home was on and behind the shield of police officers, paramedics, and firefighters was my grandfather’s home lost to the blinding heat and heavy smoke of a house fire. Our house, and everything in it, was gone. My mom drove slowly toward the police tape and then stopped, shocked of course as she looked up into the rearview mirror at me, asleep in the backseat of the car.

My mom could have ignored that feeling, she could have brushed it off as anxiety or worry or any number of things, instead she accepted it for what it is, careless of where it might be coming from and simply allowing herself to heed the warning and understand it’s intention. If my mom did ignore that feeling and continued to the store and to shop, I may very well not be here to write this.

         The first time I heard this story I was a teenager, easily in high school, and she told it at the dinner table while my family and friends were finishing up dinner, one of my parents famous dinner parties. I sat there at our dinner table in silence, listening to this story about me and how close I came to shuffling off this mortal coil. At the end of the story of my approaching untimely demise, and a few seconds of silence, laying down my fork and my knife, I said, “Um…what?!”

            I have made a conscious point to develop our connection with nature, and to pay attention to and acknowledge those feelings as they come up; it’s been a struggle because the years have been filled with trauma and abuse (from bad romantic relationships), that have made it hard to qualify one feeling from anxiety or fear. Nevertheless, now more than ever, I believe that the state of social station requires us to learn to ground and search our minds for places more primitive than we might be used to in our day-to-day lives.

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