What Wildfires Can Teach Us About Life


There is a huge amount of destruction going on in the world right now. Between earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods, we thought we’d seen the worst of it. Then California started burning up. 

In the last week, the biggest wildfires in California history burned out of control 30 miles to the north, consuming forest, homes, roads, wineries, and pretty much everything in their path. They are now mostly contained and may even be out by tomorrow, though a new destructive wildfire has just started to the south. At least 40 people have died so far in these fires and more than 100,000 people have been displaced.

A lovely round barn I had always admired, built in 1899, was destroyed in Santa Rosa, as were two communities that surrounded it on either side of the highway. The image of it burning haunts me.  

I discovered the round barn when I began picking up my mail on the other side of the highway in 2012. I was freshly grieving my daughter’s death then, and trying to put my life back together in some way, shape or form. The barn reminded me of the life I’d left behind in New England, a place where there was another round barn I knew and loved – a place where I’d been happy. 

 The round barn reminded me of home. 

The barn was the last surviving structure of what was one a Utopian community at the end of the nineteenth century. Its buildings were constructed to ‘ascend into the celestial sphere’ once the millennium passed. But they never did.  

Unless … well … that’s what’s happening now. Perhaps all of these structures and homes and lives that got lost were built or born only to eventually die.  

This is the part we forget in our zeal to get out there, grab life by the gonads and build our empires. All of it – even the most beloved old barn – will sooner or later be turned to dust.  As will we. This is the path of life. 

Life always leads to death, for how can it not? 

But consider this. What if that was the point? What if the fate of this old barn, and the 3500 other structures and countless lives that have been lost so far in these fires, went down in the blaze for some larger reason? Some reason that has to do with developing gratitude, with finding the lessons learned?  

What if these losses led to greater kindness, compassion, love and humility and discovering the true meaning of life? 

Could it be that the destruction of these wildfires was just life’s not so gentle way of correcting us? Of putting us on course to embrace our true values? 

That’s what’s possible when we experience extreme loss. Once we’ve fully and courageously embraced and processed our grief, then we can then travel to the other side of that loss and begin again. 

Then we can remember all the round barns we lost, and pay tribute to them in some meaningful way that also gives back to everyone else. Our history is powerful – and when we really examine it, we are reminded how temporary life is. 

One winery owner whose property was heavily damaged was able to save a letter written by his great-great grandfather who’d built the place. In the letter, he recounted the earthquake and subsequent fire that destroyed the winery back in 1906.  

100 years later, that memento is especially significant.  

In my own life, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of my daughter Teal. Sometimes it’s in sadness, and I just wish I could hear her voice or feel her hug again. But most of the time, it’s a smile at a great moment we shared, or it’s the thrill of telling the story of the donation of her organs to a listening audience.  

After the loss, life does and will move on again. That much we know. For now, though, there is the hard work of grieving to do.  

I pray for the best for all concerned. And may you find your own treasures in the rubble of destruction, wherever it falls in your life. 



Before the Afterlife Podcast

“Pain is really the portal to purpose,” Uma Girish says in this wonderful interview. I recommend you listen to this when you have a moment. Despite – or perhaps because – of the topic, this is an amazingly uplifting conversation. Enjoy! 

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