Freedom by Fire

Guest Blog by Chris Johnson

9947photo8I could hear the phone ringing inside my apartment as I fumbled through my keys looking for the door key, and dropping them instead. Picked them up, fumble, fumble, key sliding in the lock with a satisfying thunk. Key turns and the sound of the ringing grows suddenly louder. There’s no way I will make it but I tear across the room anyway, scoop up the receiver and blurt “hello,” into the mouthpiece. There was a pause on the other end of the line.

“Hello,” a voice said. Disappointment dripped from the word. It didn’t sound like she had really wanted to reach me.

“Hello, Mr. Johnson?” she asked.

“Yes, this is he.”

“Mr. Johnson, this is Public Storage in Salt Lake City, and we regret to inform you” (words that will paralyze even a robust heart) “that your storage unit with us was burned up in a fire. We think everything was lost.”

I waited while this information was processed. “Which one?”

“Which one? You have more than one?” She sounded like someone who was getting ready flee the scene of a crime.


“What are the numbers?”

“What were you calling about?”


“OK. I think the other is 312.”

There was a pause and a rustling of papers. “Yes, that is in your name.”

Another pause. “We regret to inform you….”

“You think it was totally destroyed, also?”

“Yes, sir. The fire was so hot it was peeling the paint on the apartment building next door. The fire department focused on keeping the fire to one building. They said there was no chance of putting it out until it burned itself down. Did you have insurance?”


“We are so sorry.”

“Thank you for letting me know,” I said, as kindly as I could. She was not having a good day. I hung up and waited for the feelings of devastation. Instead I thought, “Thank God it was only stuff.” My kids, my family were all safe. After those “We regret to inform you,” words I felt lucky, really lucky. It was only stuff, but it was most of the stuff I owned, moved out of my house before the divorce was even begun. The move had been like taking a bath in hot acid. My mind had been so numbed by pain I couldn’t begin to make decisions so I just packed it all up and dumped it in the storage units and paid rent on it while I waited for my “real” life to start again. To be dealt with later. The fire had dealt with it rather decisively. Too decisively. I was pretty sure it had to hurt like hell. So I waited.

There was sadness about this and that, some pain even, but as I embraced each hurt or sorrow the sense of being liberated grew. What I experienced most of all was lightness and relief. What a job I would have made of sorting through all my treasures and trash; deciding what to do with each thing. What a project. What an investment in time and energy.

Being a pack rat has its price, and it’s a heavy one. We want to keep our things, or our hurts, or our opinions long after their natural purpose has been explored, long after any true value has been sucked out of them. Have you noticed how much an opinion burdens you? Have you seen how it restricts your freedom of movement, and how it causes you to paint with the same color over and over? If you think that opinions are a lighter weight to bear than furniture, that is an opinion that will get you crushed under its own weight.

We ought to fight for our freedom. We ought to question everything, again and again. We ought to make every belief or pair of pants or memory of being hurt prove it is worth keeping.

We can’t always count on a fire to come along and clean house for us.



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