I started yesterday morning with a call from a friend asking if my parents were being evacuated. What? From where? Huh?

Turned out that the gigantic wildfire ravishing the hills above Santa Cruz was heading directly southwards towards my parents’ small town at a tremendous rate, aided by high winds and a mild winter. Fan-bloody-tastic. So before I’d even finished making my breakfast and pouring my coffee, I was tipped straight into full red alert mode, which lasted all day until I could collapse on the couch last night, exhausted from a day of nerves, frenetic cleaning, and scouring the TV and internet for any useful information as to the fire’s exact location.

Having just gotten through my grandmother’s birthday (and the anniversary of her fall) the day before, I was already feeling like a big raw slab of tenderized meat. Nonetheless, before this new development I was still looking forward to my own birthday this weekend, and to spending time with friends and family on our brand new, beautiful patio. But no. Last year my grandmother was in the hospital for my birthday, now my parents’ house is being threatened by 30-foot flames. Can’t I just have a normal freaking birthday for once? Apparently not.

Instead, I spent the second to last day of my 28th year on this planet frantically cleaning the house and snapping at my husband whenever he approached. I kept forgetting what I was doing and heading off to do something entirely different, then five minutes later, remembering my original task and going back to finish it… before getting distracted by something else. It was an excruciatingly helpless feeling, because of course we couldn’t get anywhere near their house to help even if we tried. Logically I realized that it made sense for us to stay at home, where we could provide them with information from the outside world. But inside, every part of me was screaming, “Your parents’ house is less than 3 miles from the fire and you’re not there???? What is wrong with you?”

During one of my more frenzied moments, my husband looked at me and said simply, “You know they’re going to be fine, right?” At the time, this pissed me off to no end — I don’t need rationality, man! I need to freak out! But after a little more thought, I saw that he was of course right. In my panic, I had lost sight of what really mattered: my family. Period. The good news is they live across a valley from direction of the fire, and could see any approaching flames well before they presented an immediate physical danger. What I was really worried about was the house, how much effort it would be to rebuild, to salvage everything and to start over again. But really, does that stuff truly matter in comparison to the lives and physical well-being of my loved ones?

Just last week, my hubby and I were talking about how neither of us are very attached to our physical possessions. We decided that really, there is not a whole lot in our house that we couldn’t just walk away from if we had to. Strangely enough, my mom said the exact same thing when talking about what to bring if they were evacuated. She and my uncle both asked if I wanted them to bring my wedding dress, which I have stored in a closet at the house. I said, “Sure, but really, I don’t care that much! I care about you guys being safe!”

After looking at it this way, I realized that yes, I am still worried about their well-being. It’s natural to be concerned when a wildfire threatens your parents’ house and you can’t do a thing about it except pray for the wind to drop (which it did) and the fog to roll in (which it did). But as for their possessions, the things that make up the patterns of their every day lives — those things can be replaced. It’s a challenge to see it that way, sure, but it’s times like these that slap you in the face and make you realize all over again what is truly important. It seems that no matter how many times I learn that lesson, I always forget before too long.

Now that I’ve been duly reminded, however, I’d really like to be able to enjoy my birthday, thanks. This may be the one and only year that I am glad when they predict rain for my birthday weekend…

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