The presence of ashes

On New Year’s Eve, nearly all of my material belongings burned to ashes.

I am still wondering how I feel about that.

My 54-years of selected items were stored in a friend’s barn. He was storing them for free to help me regain my financial well-being after the housing market crashed and burned (metaphorically, no pun intended) back in 2008 and I had to sell a condo at a loss. I am living with a limited amount of space right now and have done quite well without those items for the past two years. There was nothing of great monetary value. The value was in their memories and my history: photos of my family, a butcher block a dying friend gave me, a dresser that was 60 years old, dishes from my defunct marriage (not at all teary over that), my granddaughter’s Dora the Explorer dollhouse, my oldest daughter’s Sylvanian families animal doll set, a painting of the ocean by one of my sisters.

Curiously, this incident occurred at the same time I was writing my prayer for the new year (see “The presence of prayer”). I don’t believe for an instant that God said “Hey! I know! Let’s send her the towering inferno!” I think the fire would have happened regardless of my writing. The larger message is that everything is temporary and transitory. All of those items were made from the dust and elements of the earth and now they are returned. Perhaps I no longer need them at all.

It was not the only fire in my life that day. We had set the oven to clean on New Year’s Eve and awoke to the sound of smoke alarms at about 2:30 a.m. The oil in the oven had caught fire. Fortunately, the fire was contained inside the oven and it is now pretty darn clean. Lesson learned: clean the oven more often.

Part of me feels relieved of the worry about my stuff or having to pay someone to move it for me. I did not lose everything. I have some specific special items here with me: my meditation table and items, my books, a few pictures of my daughters, my vacuum (don’t ask), some kitchen items, and my bed.

Fire is nature’s way of removing the old and the dead. It sets the stage for new life to begin. There are some seeds in nature that require fire so they can burst open. The cones of young jack pines require intense heat in order to split apart and free their seeds. An endangered songbird (the Kirtland’s warbler) will nest only in these pines and the pines only grow in recently burned forests. (Go to “PBS”.)

I am sorry for my friend who lost a huge part of his investment in his farm. He truly lost something hundreds of times more valuable than my stuff and was at danger of losing several more buildings on his property. I am grateful there were no horses or humans in that barn and only hope the mice escaped into the wilderness.

I am more keenly aware of not becoming too attached to material things because in an instant, they can all be gone. The same is true for the living beings I love. Yet, I vow to remain attached to my love for them because that is the way I know I will find them in the next iteration of my existence.

I am one of those people who wander around finding meaning in all of life’s incidents. It is what I do as a human. Otherwise, life is meaningless and empty. Okay – life is meaningless and empty to begin with. We are the ones who fill it up with meaning. The meaning I find here today is to be grateful for what I do have: my essential belongings, the memories of my former life, the people who are still around, and the gift of knowing what is important.

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

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12 Responses to “The presence of ashes”

  1. Kimberly Grady Says:

    Oh Barbara….the divine is lighting the fire in your life……..

    I especially like your comment:
    do have: my essential belongings, the memories of my former life, the people who are still around, and the gift of knowing what is important.

    It sums up my year 2011 to a T.
    I left with very little and people say why don’t you go back and get this or that.
    It all means NOTHING if my hubby’s love was not there any more, perhaps it was there less than I really realized…..

    Here’s to a new year of ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and the realization that it all is ours only for such a short while….

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Kim. I know you have been through a tough time of it. It takes courage to leave a marriage — the known — and face the unknown. The things are secondary, incidental, and easily replaced. There is nothing in life that we can hold on to permanently: we cannot hold our moments, we cannot remain inert. We are perpetual motion and that is our reality.

  2. Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Goodness, gracious, sakes alive! What are the chances of two fires in two different places happening like that?! You’re certainly taking it in your stride — I applaud your Zen-like attitude about material items.

    I read this post to Len and he says his hat’s off to you too!

  3. Barbara Kass Says:

    Hi, Laurie — well, the superstitious side of me has called a couple of people to warn them about fires in my life. I worry about things coming in three’s. Every time I find myself fretting over one of the lost items as they come to mind, I think “well, what were you going to do with that anyway?” The answer comes back: not much.

    There is something oddly freeing about having nothing left to lose.

  4. Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Barbara – I just (now this minute) got out of a hot epsom salt bath where I Zipped you in the Pod ( While there, I got to thinking about the Phoenix…the Phoenix who rises from the ashes and is reborn. The next time you take a Shamanic journey, you make want to check in with your totems to see if perhaps you’ve a new addition to your ever-present entourage 🙂

    • Barbara Kasss Says:

      Laurie — thank you so much! I am happy to be Zipped in the Pod. I remember the story about the Phoenix rising from the ashes. Your suggestion is a very good one. That fire has made its presence known to me twice within 24 hours is a good indicator that someone is trying to get my attention.

  5. Sandi White Says:

    Barbara, I am flabber-gasted. Not one but two fires, one that relieves you of a great deal of Earthly baggage and one that could have made things very, very difficult for you. I’m not sure that I ever mentioned this before but our ( Jim, me ) house burned up, not down but up. Wiring in the attic right after Christmas, burned a huge hole in the roof, smoke and water damage, the whole nine yards. I am so glad we weren’t at home. Still, there wasn’t a thing there we couldn’t live without and that is the position you are in now. Memories that won’t be recalled, precious things that won’t be displayed again, and it so sucks when people tell you, “it’s only stuff, you can get more stuff. You are alive and that’s what matters.” Every word of it true, but there you are – it was your stuff and you felt something for it or it would have been gone. I remember when you sorted all that you had, to trash, to give away and to keep. I am sorry for your loss and your distress but over-joyed that the smoke alarm roused you. You are infinitely more precious than a world full of barns crowded with stuff and I have to say, ” Great Save!”. I feel sure you will read any number of things into this and learn many lessons, whether they are intended or not. What a New Years event, what a coincidence. I thank God for your presence.

    • Barbara Kasss Says:

      Hi, Sandi — yes, I am still coming to grips with fire sending me signals twice in 24 hours. The stuff I kept was mostly because I felt it was important to me. I think about the items that have sentimental value and feel a wince of pain inside me. I am sorry that I will not get to hold those things again, but I will remember them. That way I will be able to remember the people associated with those things. I regret losing many of them because of the personal value they had for me. It helps that I have been without that stuff for two years. I recently went by there and picked up several boxes of books and January’s box of Christmas items. If I’d had a clue at that time what I was going to lose, I would have picked up several more boxes in a heart beat. My friend (the one who owned the barn) is struggling with a greater loss: saddles, horse trailer, horse carriages, and the danger that was present to the rest of his property. Evidently, the fire crews spent most of their time and water hosing down the other barns and buildings to keep them from catching fire. If you want to see some pictures, go to and

  6. Sandi White Says:

    Barbara, I looked at the photos, what a blaze! I am glad he was able to save his other buildings and especially his silo. Any clue as to what caused the fire?

  7. Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Barbara –

    I have nominated you for the “Versatile Blogger Award.”

    The rules as they were provided to me:
    Nominate 15 fellow bloggers
    Inform the bloggers of their nomination
    Share 7 random things about yourself
    Thank the blogger who nominated you
    Add the versatile blogger award picture to your blog
    (here’s the code to insert when the widget asks for the URL or link:

    You can see the complete list of 15 near the bottom of the comments section of my current post:

  8. The presence of returning | Eternal Presence Says:

    […] returned to my place of living without my things because most of them burned up New Year’s Day 2012. But my habits have returned with me. I turn to see the time on the clock on the wall and see only […]

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