How to Count Your Blessings

We live in a time when there is a lot of talk about feeling blessed — just troll a Twitter or Facebook feed or two and notice how many of us are #blessed.

Holy humble-brag aside, it’s not hard to find reasons to be grateful. In our 24/7 news cycle, in between a headline about who that Kardashian is zooming or dating or whatevering now, there’s a ton of other far more horrendous news to process. Dead children washed up on the shore, the horrible refuse of the search for refuge. Civil wars, famine, drought, senseless acts of violence, and other tales of loss and devastation.

But counting your blessings against the backdrop of someone else’s misfortune isn’t exactly the way to intimately embrace in a deep and meaningful way all you have to be grateful for in your own life.

While I’m sure there are some people that can actually get a contact buzz from hearing bad news about good people, for me it’s not a natural leap all the way to how blessed I am personally. My go-to place when others are troubled is empathy, and that is a dark space on the level with them, not way up in the lightness of blessings.

Blessed hits home most squarely when it’s on your terms.

On your turf.

And that’s exactly what happened to my family and me last week.

It was just another Saturday night, when tragedy almost struck. As is our new norm, the kids were out and about, and my husband and I had a quiet dinner by ourselves. It was very relaxing, and very nice to not have to rush to pick anyone up until after a leisurely meal.

Our daughter and her friends arrived home first, and immediately headed out to our back garage, where we’ve put in a TV, video game console, and a couch so that our teenagers can do whatever it is teens do in (relative) privacy.

A split second later, my daughter can running in, totally panicked — she’d opened the garage door, and smoke came billowing out. My husband raced back there, and with extreme courage (or extreme foolhardiness), cased the joint for the source. With no apparent flames anywhere in the garage, it occurred to him to open the door to a make-shift closet that stored our old blankets, pillows, sheets, bins of ephemera, costumes, and Halloween decor.

A wall of smoky stank hit him in the face — burning polyester. He looked up, and saw a bare light bulb butted up against a smoldering quilt. Thinking fast, my husband grabbed the offender and threw it outside on the ground, then quickly turned the hose on it. By now I was in the garage, pulling out other crap that could possibly burn, while my husband returned to the closet and scanned for any other possible fire starters. Aside from a nasty pillow I could’ve sworn I’d tossed years ago that had a cigarette-burn sized hole smoldering on it, there was mercifully nothing.

With the smoke still thick and burning our eyes and noses, we called the fire department to make sure we’d gotten out anything that was on fire or on its way to ignition. Minutes later, we had five trucks parked in front of our house, and a half dozen firefighters on our roof and all over our garage.

Overcome maybe by smoke but more likely emotion, I ran to the front of the house where my daughter, more excited than terrified now, asked me to snap some Instagram pics of her friends and her in front of the flashing red lights.

My hands only shook a little bit as I distracted myself taking those social media shots while silently sending up a little prayer of thanks that nobody was hurt.

Shortly thereafter, the firefighters left, and we breathed a sigh of relief. Tragedy averted.

Not surprising, I had a fitful night’s sleep and jumped out of bed at the sun’s first light to start accessing the damage.

As I plucked through the sheets, pillows, and blankets, I noticed that several items were scorched light brown in multiple places. The plastic bins that held the costumes, keepsakes, and decorations had begun to melt, and none of the lids fit anymore. The offending light fixture was burned black, with dark soot deposited inside the closet and coating the walls, floor, and pretty much everything else in the garage.

The smell from the burnt synthetics was dense and noxious, so I set to Googling how to get rid of smoke smell. For the record, it’s a lot of room douching (unleash the power of white vinegar!), sweeping, mopping, wiping, dusting… and repeating it all a few times over.

While some of us had a life and a big day watching football to tend to (ahem, my husband and son), others had plans (my daughter), and still others were blissfully unaware and napping (dogs, although I liked to think of their utter disinterest as denial), I was more than happy to dedicate the next several hours soothing my anxiety by smothering it with my housework addiction. I started piles for Goodwill, tossed a bunch of (flammable) things I didn’t want or need, and got waaayyy into it.

As I worked, my brain skipped right over PHEWWWW and THANK GOODNESS to HOLY SHIT and WHAT IF…

… we weren’t home?

… my daughter didn’t go out there?

… or worse, it happened when she was back there and everything went up quickly, vs. the slow smolder?

… the garage burned, and the flames travelled quickly through the dried-out grass in our non-drought tolerant yard, straight to our house?

… this all happened in the middle of the night when we were sleeping, and we weren’t quick enough to get out in time?

On, and on, and on it went — the joy of worry overtook me all the way to a crying jag after successfully convincing myself that this was the worst  thing that had ever happened to my family.

The waterworks that flowed so freely, powered by poor me, woe is me, did a great job of extinguishing my ability to clearly see the situation and my ability to move from bereaved to blessed.

For the record, this is the shittiest way possible to count your blessings because once you’re spinning, you push reason and reality right out the door.

And the spin cycle only stopped when my daughter got home and told me that she too had been processing the fire all day long, struggling to understand why.

“I guess things just happen for a reason,” she said.

This made me realize that yes, there was a reason this happened, and it was simple: things that generate heat (light bulbs) can and probably will cause fires when in close proximity to things that are flammable. Period.

As for the reason we caught it before it combusted and turned into a wholly difference scenario, that’s luck. Or, as some call it, a blessing.

This is all that counts.

All that should be counted.

So if you see me flipping fingers, jotting lines on a page, or using a freakin’ abacus, just know I’m doing just that. Keeping it simple, counting the good things one by one. And the big takeaway is that we don’t have to tally what ifs to understand that we are all #blessed.

For my peeps celebrating a new year, fress don’t fret — here’s to a sweet new year chock full ‘o blessed moments. For those who are just coppin’ an attitude of gratitude, you’ve got it good. And everyone else, just remember to be in the moment cuz you can count on it to keep you safe and sane.

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