I had a nightmare a few days ago. In it, brush that we’d burned the day before had left embers that spread. I noticed smoke oozing up from the fields behind and in front of our house, and I alerted my husband. By the time he had gotten a hose, the field was ablaze and spreading quickly to the forest surrounding our house. He screamed, “Get the dogs!” We ran into the house and got all our animals out, and while the flames were encroaching, there was time to run back in for a few more things.
For years I used to muse about what I’d save if our house were on fire. After we’d gotten the animals out, I always said I’d get the photo albums, lined up on several shelves on a bookcase in chronological order. And so, in the nightmare, this is what I did. But we have so many photo albums that I couldn’t possibly carry them all in a single trip. I grabbed what I could, ran out to the car, and as I was running back in my husband yelled, “Get in the car!” But I wanted to grab one more armful, and just as the forest surrounding the house caught fire and blazed hot and high, I grabbed the last of what I could.
And then I awoke in a sweat.
Because I couldn’t fall back asleep for quite some time (not only because my heart was racing, but also because I was completely squished by my three dogs whose lives I was so grateful to have just saved that I was disinclined to move them), I thought about what I’d chosen to save.
In the dream, it was only as I carried out the last I could retrieve that I realized the mistake of gathering so many photo albums and not rescuing my computer from the blaze. As I lay awake, I understood that the manifestation of my memories – my beloved photographs – weren’t nearly as important to me as my actual life’s work, largely stored on my computer. The blow to my work from losing those years of files would be far greater than the blow to my heart from losing pictures.
I was happy to realize that my sentimental attachments were less important to me now than the body of work I’ve amassed to bear a positive mark on this Earth; to realize that I cared more about what I could achieve through my efforts in humane education than I cared about seeing pictures of my family. I felt as if my priorities had matured.
Thankfully, this was only a nightmare, but an illuminating one.
If your house were on fire, what would you save if you had the chance to run in just twice?
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
Image courtesy of 111 Emergency via Creative Commons.
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