- Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
In the early hours of a January morning in Texas years ago, a man was jolted awake to a nightmare; his friend was rushing down the stairs of the two story home he lived in yelling “The house is on fire!”
He leapt from his bed, grabbing things off walls, throwing items from the doorway to the bed of his truck outside, dragging furniture into the yard, trying to save what he could. The fire department had been called, but by the time they reached the country home fifteen minutes later, what had once been a charming old farm house had been transformed into a pile of ash. To add to his misery, while the fire department was spraying the propane tank to prevent a possible explosion, the furniture caught fire and was also destroyed.
The man loved living in that century old farmhouse out in the country because he could see the sun rise and set with a clear view. He loved sunrises - the dawn of a new day, and he often photographed them. It had always been his dream to live a peaceful life in the quiet serenity of the country, close to nature.
A carpenter by trade, years later he would go to get a particular tool only to remember it had burned up in the fire. Still, he said the most precious thing he lost that night were not so much his possessions, but all his years of mementos and irreplaceable souvenirs “the little things you pick up along the way of life,” as he calls them, and his family photographs.
Sometimes life rolls along smoothly and everything goes according to plan. One morning you wake up thinking it will be just another ordinary day, and tragedy strikes. Sometimes you lose a loved one, get a terminal diagnosis, you or a loved one is involved in a traffic accident - and the staggering winds of adversity suddenly begin to blow out of nowhere at an almost unbearable gale.
When adversity strikes from out of the blue, when loss tears from you what is most precious, when the unexpected slips into our lives in the darkness of night and turns what we treasure to ashes, that is when we discover who we truly are.
In the fight to survive against such strong winds of change, all the masks come off, all the “little things” that once seemed to matter so much are cast aside, and the difficult task of rebuilding or recovering becomes your sole focus. All that is left is the truth of who you are, your strength or weakness, optimism or bitterness, faith or fear and who you will allow yourself to become as a result of what has happened to you.
Will you be hopeful another day or will you let life make you bitter and angry? Will you be courageous and struggle to rebuild what was lost or will you surrender to tragedy’s pain? Only you can answer that question and all of us, at one time or another, must answer the questions adversity asks of us.
We can listen to the voice of fear telling us all the reasons we cannot possibly survive or succeed, or the voice of faith telling us nothing is impossible, or the voice of failure saying “It’s no use.” Or we can listen to the voice of hope whispering “Get back up and try one more time.”
The man lost most everything of value he owned in the house that night, he was renting and had no insurance to cover his loss. He had his vehicle left, a few pictures from the walls and a few tools, but nothing else except the fortitude that makes him the courageous man he is. In fifteen minutes, his entire life changed, he lost his home and he was faced with starting over.
When asked how he handled such a devastating tragedy on that cold January night, he answered, “You just start building again. You go get some clothes and get a place to stay and start over.”
“You just start over.”
That fire may have destroyed his possessions, his photographs and even his mementos of childhood, but it couldn’t burn up his hope, his strength, his character, or his courage to live to see one more sunrise.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”- Winston Churchill
Excerpted from Sidewalk Flowers, Vol. 1
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