I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do…”  –Joe Walsh


When I was a kid, I had picture book called Fortunately. As I recall, the character had, fortunately, been invited to a birthday party. Unfortunately, it was on the other side of the country. Fortunately, he had a plane. Unfortunately, it blew up. Fortunately, there was a parachute. Unfortunately, something was wrong with it. Fortunately, there was a haystack on the ground below. Unfortunately, there was a pitchfork sticking out of the haystack. Fortunately, he missed the pitchfork. Unfortunately, he missed the haystack. Fortunately, he landed in the ocean. Unfortunately, there were sharks. Fortunately, he could swim…

In the end, fortunately, the kid wound up safely at the party.

When he was 25, my husband of the time was driving home through Boulder Canyon and was struck head-on by a drunk driver. Fortunately, he was not killed. Unfortunately, he was badly injured. Unfortunately, he was driving my Fiat Spyder and was more badly hurt than he might have been had he been driving our Jeep Wagoneer. Fortunately, the other guy was driving a TR-6, and so my husband was not decapitated. Fortunately, my husband was not driving our Jeep Wagoneer, or he would have had to live with having decapitated the other guy. Unfortunately, he was not wearing his seatbelt, and so his windpipe was nearly crushed when it struck the top of his windshield. Fortunately, he was not wearing his seatbelt, and so he avoided having his legs crushed beyond repair when the engine came into the driver’s compartment. Fortunately, everyone had insurance. Unfortunately, my ex-husband is still in pain and facing surgeries to this day, at 50, from that accident.

It could have been so much worse. Was he lucky that he didn’t die, lucky that there was insurance? Or unlucky that the whole thing occurred in the first place? Lots of people go through life never having to deal with stuff like this.

Recently my house did not burn down in the Fourmile Canyon fire. You bet I thank my lucky stars. But all around me are houses that are for sale, owned by people who really need to sell. I just took mine off the market because it hasn’t sold and wouldn’t be likely to do so over the winter, especially after this fire. After being out of work since last December, my partner had to take a job far away. I’m not sure what’s next for us, all the more so in a real estate market like this.

“You’re lucky your house was safe,” someone said.

I can’t argue with that. I’m glad I don’t have to go through the hassle of replacing everything, especially the more I read about what others are dealing with. But the equity in my house, which I not long ago would have estimated at a decent chunk, isn’t safe. I worked hard for that money, and it was mostly sweat equity, not just market appreciation equity. I didn’t over-leverage my house, by the way. And because I came to the professional world late, after a divorce, it’s pretty much all I had for my retirement. The bank will get its money, when and if it ever sells, but I’m likely to lose mine. There’s no insurance to cover that.

Others I know ARE being foreclosed on. And there’s no insurance to cover that, either.

Who’s lucky in #boulderfire? One thing I’ve learned in my life, though even for me it’s hard to put in practice: try not to go around saying “at least” to others. Well, at least you didn’t die in your car accident (maybe the person had a head injury that changed her life forever). At least you were only evacuated from the fire (maybe someone was evacuated in the middle of chemotherapy treatments and the stress sent him into pneumonia). At least you’re safe (how do you know how the other person defines safe? Maybe she was abused as a child and this is the last straw for her brain wiring).

Recently I hiked with a friend to the top of the Highline in Lefthand Canyon, where I ran into someone who lost his home in the fire. Like many, he’d been away over Labor Day weekend and had been unable to rescue any of his possessions. But, he said, he was “over it now.”

“Really?” I said. “I hear it’s an up and down process for a lot of people.”

“Well, it helps to have had some life experiences to put it in perspective.”

“Where are you from?” I guessed he was East European; he had a Slavic accent, but he had introduced himself as “Pavel,” with the stress on the second syllable, so I knew he wasn’t Russian.

“Czech,” he said. “I spent some time in a refugee camp. When you’ve lost a whole country, and you know you can never go back, a house, well…”

“Still. At some point, you’d think maybe you’ve paid your dues,” I said.

“Well, yeah,” he said.

He pointed out how amazing it was that no one had died in this fire, given its violence and the speed at which it had moved. There were so many close calls. Even most of the pets were saved. “Lucky,” he said.

Yes. Lucky.

And I walked back down the mountain to my unburned, unsold house. What do I know? Perhaps all the right things still will happen for me. Maybe it all is lucky. Just the same, Joe Walsh looped around in my head.


fireCR83(1) (iPhone photo by Russell Greene, age 10—top of the Highline/CR 83)


4 thoughts on “Lucky/Unlucky

  1. My sister, it is SUCH a pleasure to read what you write and post. I learn about who you were and how you are. I learn about your relationship with my brother. I learn of how it was for you to bring up your wonderful Julian.

    The clarity of detail and personal connection, be it about not selling your house or not having lost that physical house, is amazing! You’re one perceptive, smart cookie.

    I am so proud of you!

  2. I liked your post quite a bit. Somehow wanted to see a picture of your house at the end – or even at the beginning – to get a feel for context/setting. Just saying. Thanks for writing so beautifully.

  3. Claudia,

    Thanks for such a lovely post, and thanks for putting up a link to Burning Down the House.

    People say “at least” to me all the time, and I tell you friends, it is Not Helpful! “At least you were away and didn’t get hurt, at least your dog was okay, at least…”

    I think people are a) trying to make you feel better but they just don’t know how, and b) trying to make themselves feel better because we as a culture don’t know how to deal with tragedy and loss. We like success and happy endings – loss and failure makes us nervous. And so we do weird things like try to compare one tragedy to another.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and just wrote an essay a few days ago called, This is Not a Pain Contest. Since I lost my home in the Four Mile Fire, people have been hesitant to talk about their problems in front of me. Their own worries seem shallow to them, compared to mine at the moment. But I tell them to go ahead, we all have our troubles.

    And then there’s my neighbor Walter, who survived Auschwitz, who said after the fire that compared to a concentration camp, losing his house was “no big deal.” But he’s also too sad to rebuild, and he lost all of his precious memorabilia in the fire, and his land is no longer beautiful. He spent 45 years up there, in that cool, green, expansive place, and now he’s going to get a condo in town. To me, that’s a Big Deal, no matter how you slice it.

    I think that Great Loss has its own rhythm, its own life, its own impact, for each of us. And I know we all deal with it in our own way. And some losses are so deep – leaving your beloved country and never being able to go home again, losing a child or spouse, battling a disabling physical or mental illness, losing a cherished pet… How can we say one is worse or “better” than another? As you point out, “lucky,” is a state of mind.

    I feel lucky about this Whole Stupid Fire Thing, believe it or not. I am lucky that I have lived in Boulder for 35 years and have my friends, my armies of angels, taking care of me on a daily basis. I am lucky that I have insurance, and my dog Nellie is okay, and that I will (sort of ) get to go home one day. But that doesn’t mean I’m not angry and grieving and out of my mind on a daily basis. I can accept it, and I can feel lucky, and I can also not like it at all.

    I think if I met someone whose house burned down in the Four Mile Fire and he said he was “over it,” I’d look him in the eye and say, “I don’t believe you for a minute.”

    My house burned down when I was twelve, and my little brother died when he was 26, and now my house has burned down – again. Over it? I’m barely IN it.

    It’s not a pain contest, and everyone already “has a little perspective,” it’s just that our perspectives are different, so different. And like a hologram, each perspective has its own truth, its own reality, one as powerful as the next.

    Lucky; yes. Unlucky; yes. And the world spins, and on we go.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post, and for your lovely writing,


    • Andi, thanks for honoring me with this comment. I agree there’s no measuring what each loss means to each person. And I think that as I tried to say to Pavel, it’s up and down and maybe he was in an up moment. But maybe after losing everything before, he really could be a lot more philosophical. Probably, from the refugee camp, he never, ever imagined that his life would take him to the foothills of Boulder.

      So, I often try to tell myself, in dark moments, how do I know what’s around the corner?

      But I so, and so continually relate to much of what you post on your blog. I could comment on everything you say, but I’d sound manic, or stalking… You described how you got live on Sugarloaf and how it seemed for a long time a near-perfect fit. I had a life like that in Eldora, CO, for 12 years. I didn’t get burned out, and I didn’t lose all my stuff (though I lost a lot of it). Divorce drove me out, and not only did I lose the house and the community, but the whole shape of the life, the rituals, the *meaning* of it. I won’t go into all of it, but I’ve never got it all back, and everything since has been not quite the way I wanted it. So I could relate, a lot, to one of your more recent posts about how the Meadow will not ever be the same. It won’t.

      Other things may come into your life that would not have, and you’ll be grateful for them, but that doesn’t mean you’ll ever stop missing what was, or that part of you wouldn’t just wish that arc #1 couldn’t just have continued.

      But it didn’t.

      I read about Walter in the Daily Camera, and thought, Oh, Oh, Oh. Again, haven’t some people paid and paid? I don’t know what’s up with that, and places like Boulder sometimes seem to rub it in especially hard, where it does seem like some people seem to “visualize” a lot of blessings into their lives and that does seem to work for them. It’s ugly to say this, but I just will: Envy is a big challenge for me, living here. And yet, though I can’t speak for Walter, some of the people I’ve met who have suffered the most seem to be the most free of it, and I strive to learn from them.


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