Monday night our neighbor knocked at the door, and asked me if I knew anything about the alarm going off down the hall. It sounded like a cell phone alarm, and I immediately dismissed it. My neighbor wasn’t convinced.

“I think we should call the police,” he said. “I think it’s something more than an alarm clock.” I suggested he find the resident manager before calling the cops, and that maybe he could go into the apartment and locate the source of the noise.

It turns out it was the smoke alarm. The neighbor down the hall had left a stove burner on with something on top of it. And that something was burning.  I don’t know how close it was to being aflame, and I don’t want to know. Fire scares me like little else.

I’ve known my whole life, the way I know the sky is blue, that I won’t die in a plane crash or a train crash or a car crash. I just know. What I don’t have any certainty about is fire, and I cannot imagine a worse way to perish. I also start to worry about the other, superficial things surrounding a home fire – like being in ratty pjs in the middle of the night when I have to flee (though if I truly worried about that I guess I could take steps to not wear ratty pjs to bed), having enough time to grab my firebox (it contains a few precious family photos and my passport, social security card, and birth certificate, among other completely random objects), and making sure I have a change of clothes. Yes, these are the things I worry about. I also worry about not being able to wake Jason up (unlikely), me not waking up (possible – I slept through a tornado during my freshman year of college), and the aftermath, assuming I survive. No, I don’t worry about being burned to death. I worry about having to clean up after a fire. I dread the idea of dealing with administrative paperwork and speaking to customer service people over the phone or (gasp) in person.

I suppose I can’t even process what it would be like to suffer the way burn victims do. We once saw a news report of a woman who had saved herself and her children from a house fire – it was the THIRD house fire she’d been in. Half of her face and her arms were scarred, and you could see the way she was wincing that the heat of the still-burning townhouse affected her in ways an average person could never understand. I was also amazed by her attitude – just grateful to be alive. Let me tell you – after one, let alone three housefires, I would be spitting nails and shaking my fist at anything and everything. I can’t see myself being calm and full of gratitude.

So maybe that’s the lesson. I work hard everyday to cede my dominating nature and not worry about things I can’t control, to be thankful for my many blessings.  And obviously I’m not truly worried, or I’d have an emergency bag packed and waiting by the door. Still, my heart beats a little faster thinking about what could have happened. I don’t like close calls.


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