In 2016, the huge Soberanes fire on the Monterey Peninsula became the most expensive wildfire in American history. In this archived Perspective, Stan Goldberg faced the destruction of a family cabin by reflecting on the meaning of memory and loss.
As the Soberanes fire in Carmel threatens the Monterey peninsula, our cabin may become a charred monument to quiet weekends, solitude, and cherished family gatherings.
I’m told it’s roaring through canyons with heat that melts metal. As I prepared to retrieve treasured objects, I learned the road to the cabin is closed and mandatory evacuations are in effect.
For days I watched dramatic pictures of the fire on Facebook, juxtaposed to families celebrating and people describing their breakfast.
In my hospice work, I shared the pain of relatives who couldn’t stop the death of a loved one. They could only witness the event. Their helplessness is what I’m experiencing now. The destruction of the cabin and it’s contents will be inconsequential compared to the loss of a loved one. But how do I deal with losing something so treasured just the words, “our cabin,” causes me to smile? I’ll do it through memories.
For 15 years I counseled caregivers about the importance of letting go. Now it’s my turn. My turn to let go believing a miracle will stop the fire. My turn to let go of the source of much happiness. My turn to let go of the belief my needs can prevent the inevitable.
We often hold on to the past with a grasp so tight it stops us from experiencing the present and moving into the future. Life without my retreat will be difficult, but the memories it created for 30 years will remain. When Ilsa and Rick in the movie, Casablanca, are departing for the last time, he tries to console her by saying, “We’ll always have Paris.” It’s my turn now to say goodbye to my cabin. Your memories, just as Paris did with Rick and Ilsa, will always be with me.
With a Perspective, I’m Stan Goldberg.
Stan Goldberg lives in San Francisco and is the author of several books on loss.