A Cautionary Tale
by Kerry Blair
I’ve never lost all my earthly possessions in a fire, flood, tornado, or other natural disaster, but I’ve recently come to empathize more with those who have.
A little over a week ago someone set fire to an LDS church in Mesa, Arizona. Over the course of several awful hours it burned to the ground. A total loss. Only the steeple remains, and it sits on the ground, charred but still white, still upright, still pointing toward heaven. Some official in Salt Lake City said it will cost $3 million to build a new stake center, but the building so many of us knew and loved for so long is irreplaceable. For the last week mourners have gathered on the sidewalk across the street. My best friend reports that few people left with dry eyes, not even my normally unemotional husband and less-active son.
My kids were baptized in that building. In fact, they grew up there. My oldest son left from the stake president’s office for the MTC and, essentially, life on his own. My three-year-old daughter once told my mother, “We have a little house around the corner, but we live at the church.” That was probably truer than it should have been. For sure I couldn’t count the hours we spent there at pinewood derbies, Daddy-Daughter dates, Eagle projects, Christmas Pageant and roadshow rehearsals, Homemaking Days, Enrichment Nights, New Beginnings, recycling old fabric into humanitarians projects, parties, reunions, receptions . . . funerals. It was the only church my father entered; my 2-week-old nephew was memorialized in that chapel.
I served as ward YW president (twice) and ward and stake RS president in Lehi. Possibly I spent more than my share of hours inside those peaceful walls. I grew to love that old building as much as one can brick and mortar and memories. The morning it “died” I took out the carved wooden sheep I’d used for a decade as a keychain for my church keys and held it in my hand. Then I closed my eyes and recalled many times walking down the long, cream-colored halls, running my hand along the glossy bricks as I made the rounds, turning out the lights, checking the doors, securing the windows – making sure it was safely tucked in before I finally walked the half-block home to do the same for my children. There was something wondrous about that building. Ask anyone who “lived” there with me. When we moved to Utah we met in a building of an identical year and design, but it wasn’t the same. It hadn’t seen my children grow up, grow strong, and go forth.
But this blog isn’t a eulogy for the Lehi Stake Center. (At least it wasn’t supposed to be when I started it!) That heartrending fire was only the first of the great losses I faced last week. A week ago today – right about now, in fact – I was mourning the loss of my magic box. Believe me, the weeping and wailing would have broken your heart.
Remember Mary Poppins’s remarkable carpet bag? The one from which she removed not only all her garments but a bubbling teapot and 5’ rubber plant? Well, my box was like that. It was only about 14” x 13” x 2” but inside it were many of the things I cherish most in this world. Just to give you an idea: I’ve been compiling a very personal cookbook over the last several years, a book I intended to make into a legacy for my children. All the carefully gathered recipes were in that box, along with 16 or 18 pages of the best quotes I’d come across in a lifetime of collecting other writers’ words. Underneath that I’d crammed about eighteen month’s worth of fan letters – every word of which was deeply appreciated, and existed nowhere else. Stored carefully with the letters was a list of 468 of my favorite people in the world – people kind or deluded or bored enough to sign up for my mailing list. (That’s almost 500 people who might now wonder why they won’t get the picture of my pit bull in an elf collar posing with my bunny in a Santa hat this year.) Nor might anybody ever see the Nightshade Christmas story I promised who-knows-how-many readers. Yep, almost finished, but nowhere I can reach it. I think I left it right on top of the hundred or so irreplaceable pictures I’d planned to “frame” for my mother and mother-in-law this Christmas. I took them off the camera, put them in the box, erased the memory card in preparation for the holidays . . . lost every visual record of the glorious trips we made to Utah and the beach during the precious few days my Marine was home on leave. Heck, I even had an ARC of my favorite new book – Jeff’s – in there, and it’s gone too.
Talk about a Black Friday. It began well enough. I got up early to send you all a happy little blog I’d written about keeping a gratitude journal. (Appropriate for the day-after-Thanksgiving, don’t you think?) The blog was, of course, in the box. I sat down, opened the lid, pressed the little button that magically releases all the contents and . . . nothing happened. Nothing except a low sort of keening sound. (I’m not sure if it was me or the box.) I tried again and again and again and again. I called for help. I wept and wailed when all help failed, and then when everything was blackest I kicked the darn thing. (Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have.) But it wouldn’t release the contents no matter what I did or who I asked. I now fear I will never see any of those things again.
I know it’s self-centered, but hours later when I saw on TV the devastating fires in California and the earthquakes and floods in other diverse places, I felt a deeper empathy than I ever have before. I didn’t lose everything, or even close to it, but I lost enough to make me a little more tender-hearted.
Let’s pray I also lost enough to make me a little smarter.
This is where the moral to the cautionary tale comes in. While there’s probably nothing anybody could have done to prevent what happened to the church building, there are things I could have done to preserve and protect the contents of my box. I’ve been told (and told and told) that there are vast cyber-vaults to which all one’s treasures can be sent for a very nominal fee. I’ve seen for myself that there are these pretty little round, flat, shiny things that when inserted in a special slot in the box make perfect copies of all that is near and dear. My brother even gave me a magic key for my box last Christmas. All I have to do is stick it in the front of my box and push a couple of buttons and – voila! – I can remove all my recipes, pictures, books, quotes . . . life . . . stick it in my pocket and sleep peacefully at night.
I’ve never done any of those things. (Yes, really. I’m either an optimist or an idiot. Perhaps I’m both.) But now I will. At least I will when (if) I get another magic box. I’m borrowing one now. It’s been to Iraq – possibly twice – so it’s gritty with sand and missing three keys. (Fortunately, those letters and functions are over-rated.) It doesn’t have a word processor, but you can write volumes here on Blogger without them kicking you out. Perhaps I can write a novel, or at least a short story, over on AOL and mail it to myself. Might work.
So life is good and I’m still finding things to write in my gratitude journal. (Wish I had the blog; it would have saved you this pathetic ramble.) I’m also starting over cyber-wise. Anybody want to sign up for my new-and-improved mailing list? So far I have two people on it – me and the dog. She never loses anything she cherishes; she either puts it under her bed and lays on top of it or buries it in the backyard. Wonder if that would work for me . . .