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