• Shelby Hughes

To The Broken Ones: How to Find Life After a Fire

Updated: Jul 24


Smoke fills my lungs as I near a fire that towers seven feet above me. I watch in terror as the wind shifts, and that fire takes on its own embodiment, turning itself toward our cabin. Mom springs into action, grabbing a nearby towel and wild with rage and fierceness, she beats the fire in front of her. She yells for my brother and sister to do the same and for me to get more water and towels.

Throwing the remaining water on the fire, I race back inside to fill the buckets. I heave oxygen into my lungs in the pause of impatience. Oxygen I desperately need. Pause I desperately need. But I can only think about getting back outside to put out the fire.

I don’t see the benefit of waiting.

I feel useless.

Buckets filled, I race back outside, eager. But the fire can’t be extinguished by me and my family alone.

Mom races inside and calls 911. She rushes back out and continues where she left off.

My body moves despite its exhaustion and my thoughts race, questions taking over, scared prayers whispered while looking beyond flame and smoke to deep blue sky where great-grandma had told me Jesus was. But he feels much further away.

I race inside, and it is there while waiting for buckets to fill with water that I yell angry, despair-filled, pleading prayers to him somewhere way beyond the blue.

The phone rings, hushing my frustration. I answer in case it’s Dad who’s speeding home from work.

But it isn’t him. It’s someone from our church. I fumble over words, speaking in fragments.

“hello…yes…it’s us…out of control…I gotta go…”

I grab the buckets that finally finished filling and run back outside.

The cycle continues. I rush outside with water. Race inside, filling buckets. I answer a ringing phone or yell at God to answer me.

The fire moves away from the house and deep into the woods. Dad arrives. Firetrucks come. Everyone disperses into the woods to find and fight the flame.

Mom instructs me to stay at the house.

So I answer phone calls.

Neighbors call. Folks from church call.

They each ask how they can help.

I am near 12. Uncertain.

“However you can, like, now” I answer.

It’s an invitation to show up, to be present. And each arrive, some go into the woods to help put out the fire, and others stand in a circle of prayer and concern.

One woman brings towels. I don’t recall mentioning towels, but she brings fresh, clean towels that aren’t tattered and filthy.

Hours later, my parents come out of the woods soaked in sweat and soot, and upon seeing nearly half the church waiting to help, tears of gratitude wash away grime from their cheeks.

The fire is over.

But the months that follow yield still smoldering trees that sizzle at the touch of rain.

The months that follow are bleak—no beauty in charred land.

Summer feels dead. The fall and winter cold and dark.

Lifeless.

It’s hard to wait for newness, for normalcy.

And in the waiting, we sometimes forget to forge on with faith.

We look at charred, empty land and cast our eyes downward. And they stay down for so long that we almost miss it. And we must navigate the heartache of it all, our senses attune to the black, the soot, the brokenness.

After months of smoldering darkness, Dad takes me into the woods, kneels, and pushes away soot with calloused, work-worn hands. He’s lived through more—seen more. And I kneel with him, uncertain, but hopeful.

And there, sprigs of life. Gentle. Tender. Bright green, tiny buds.

I take my smaller hands and search the ground, desperate. Eyes wide in wonder. Hopeful. Hiding under all this is something brand new, beautiful. Hope-filled.

I push away the soot, revealing the bright green buds-to see beauty and life. But beauty and life couldn't be seen right away, because we had to wait for spring.

We stand back up, and my Daddy speaks words that I speak now into present, metaphorical darkness.

“This will all be green again. Slowly. But you’ll see it. Gradual, ‘til one day any remnant of what happened here will be hard to find.”

And so I keep searching, hopeful. Still waiting, because spring is not yet here. It’s not quite time. But the days are growing warmer, and I know I’ll see those sprigs of life. My Father promises a new thing. And though this land will never look the same, I will take the newness in with wide-eyed, child-wonder. Because hiding under all that's charred is something brand new and beautiful.

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2017 Shelby L Hughes | Greensburg, PA | shelbyhugheswriter@gmail.com