Hoardy? Me?

(No, the title is not a reference to The Bearded Iris‘s twittery use of “whorety” for forty, though I love that. Can’t wait to turn whorety next month. But this is about being hoardy. Read on.)

A post at Big Little Wolf’s Daily Plate of Crazy had me thinking. She asked how we draw the line between collecting and hoarding. The clinical definition specifies that to be a hoarder you have to collect so much and be so unwilling to shed anything that you can’t maneuver in your house.

No problem. I have lots of space.

I used to be a collector. I treasured bits and pieces of my personal history, my family’s mementos, and objects that held special importance.

But after the fire, I changed. I still like to collect and to cling. But after a few months or years, I call treasures “clutter” and shove them all into the donation bag. I put into the garage sale pile things that should be important to me.

But they’re just things.

I learned what it means to keen for lost belongings and to forget them relatively quickly. I have found small bits of what I thought I lost and mourned as deeply as I thought possible for what I would never get back.

Because what you really lose in catastrophe is a sense of safety. Of permanence. Like nothing else, a home-demolishing fire teaches you nothing is forever. Especially stuff.

And I can tell you: what I cling to now—what I cannot live without—is memories. Even if they’re not permanent, and even if they change before I can document them and certainly each time I replay them, memories serve as a lasting link from who we were to who we are.

I don’t need stuff to remind me. I treasure words, I love photographs. But I need neither to remember who I am and who I’ve been.

I joked at Daily Plate of Crazy that maybe I’m so willing to toss what I collect even while longing to hear the stories behind friends’ collections because the adventures my tchotkes represent aren’t adventuresome enough.

Maybe if I lived large and loud I’ve have bigger memories and a better collection.

But it’s not true. No matter how I live it feels large. And I preserve the memories the best I can.

And I just don’t need to keep the dust-collectors to hang on to what I want to remember.

Dear Colorado

I’m so sorry you’re going through this. We’ve had our differences, but wildfires are terrifying and devastating and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone.

For those Coloradans who’ve lost homes and loved ones, I’m so deeply sorry. I know some of the heartbreak you’re dealing with and I know some of the nightmares you’ll face. If you can, find a support group or a professional counselor now. The next few weeks might be desperately hard, and leaning on the family and neighbors offering help might be enough. But it might not be, and that’s not the fault of you or your family and friends. I don’t know you or your lives, but I can tell you that the one-year anniversary could be more devastating that you might imagine, so having a support structure in place now will help then.

For those who were near the fires, please know that you have been through a trauma, too. People will tell you that you’re lucky even though you might feel more terrified and out of control than lucky. They’ll assume you’re fine because your narrow escape was a lack of actual damage.

But you might have some of the same post traumatic stress that other fire survivors have. I don’t pretend to know those whose homes were saved by the incredible efforts of firefighters, but I’m willing to guess that their lives might be consumed with fear and guilt for a while. You are survivors, too. There is no escaping a fire like this. Losing neighbors but not your own home or family is a blessing, but it’s a traumatizing experience, too. A lesson in “almost” and capriciousness and “what happens next time?” I’m glad you’re safe and that your houses still stand. I’m sorry about your loss of security and peace of mind.

Please give yourself the space to grieve. Please find a support group or a counselor to help you through, too. Fire victims have all manner of stories. Even those neighboring Colorado towns who feared the winds might come their way, watching for days every minute of television coverage have a story, will grieve for a while. Allow that, because it helps. I promise you won’t fall to pieces if you let the sadness take over for a part of every day.

Know that fire survivors all over the world feel for you this week, this month, this decade. You’ve joined a terrible, wrenching club. And I’m sorry to have you join us.

Fire fighters: I still don’t have the words and I don’t know that I ever will. With all the talk of heroism, embrace that you’re human. You, too, will have fear, make mistakes, feel guilt, and be emotionally exhausted. You’re allowed to grieve, too. This is what you’re trained for, but it’s scary. I still wish I could find the fire fighter overwhelmed by flames who had to ignore us as we fled down a burning fire escape. He looked so scared and I think we could all use a drink together. Tomorrow works for me.

May all of Colorado sleep well and get the emotional, financial, and spiritual help they need in the coming days and months. Fight the after effects of that bastard fire, survivors.

Be well, Colorado.