Gratitude Among the Ashes

BY: Julie Anna Hill

A story from Learning to Dance in the Rain....

It was the Year from Hell-September 1993 to September 1994-the dog died, my marriage of 24 years ended, and my house burned down. I had moved into a new rented house with my youngest son, after my husband and I split up. We'd been in the house just six weeks. I went to a dinner party one night, and as I drove home, I saw helicopters hovering in the general vicinity of my new home. Smoke was billowing into the sky, and sirens were wailing. As I got closer, I thought, Wouldn't it be awful if that was my house? Then I turned the corner, and sure enough, it was my house.

I was devastated. It had been such a horrible year, and now everything I owned had gone up in smoke. Mementos, baby pictures, family keepsakes, clothes, furniture-everything was destroyed. My marriage was gone, my dog was gone, my home was gone, and all my worldly possessions, except my car and the clothes on my back, were gone too.

My son and I stayed with a friend for a couple of nights. Then my friend Gail heard about the fire, called me up, and said, "Come move into my house. I have seven bedrooms and five bathrooms-plenty of space for you and your son." It was a sprawling ranch house on a double lot in La Jolla, with an ocean view, to boot. Gail had three kids at home, but there was still plenty of room for me and my son, Sutton. Her offer was a godsend. Little did I know that her offer of a temporary place to stay would turn into a living arrangement that lasted two and a half years.

Gail and I had a lot in common. We had both been raised Catholic and our unconscious minds had been programmed the same way-we saw ourselves as good little Catholic girls who were gonna stay married forever. But both of our husbands decided they didn't want to be married anymore, and so here we were, two single mothers, dazed, confused, and in a fog. We had followed the rules... why were we not happy? Gail and I spent the next couple of years sorting out a lot of things together.

After we moved in, I soon began to look for a permanent place to live. After a few weeks, Gail said, "Please don't leave. I've never had so much freedom!" Having me in the house meant someone to help take care of her kids, someone to share cooking and gardening, and someone to share day-to-day life. She loved having me there, and I loved being there. So we stayed.

It was an important chapter in my life. Gail and I gardened together, talking back and forth as we worked in the soil. We both needed time to heal from our divorces, time to sort out the confusion, time to get some clarity on the past and some focus on the future. It was a time of deeper insight and spiritual growth for both of us. Over time, I grew to realize how strong

I really was, how even-tempered, and how I really could get my act together and go on with my life.

Gail's generosity was more than anyone could ever ask or expect from a friend. She gave me a safe haven in which to mourn and heal and grow into the next chapter of my life. She showed her love in countless ways. I am eternally grateful to have a friend like Gail.

I'm also grateful for the lessons I learned from the fire and the other losses that came so suddenly, so fast. Much to my surprise, I found gratitude among the ashes. I was tested sorely-literally trial by fire. But, like a phoenix, I rose from the ashes strong and whole. I would not be the person I am today if not for that Year from Hell.

*adapted from Friends Are Everything, by BJ Gallagher



 

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