Bastrop-fire pic

A two-mile-high wall of smoke and flame engulfs the skyline during the historic Bastrop County Complex Fire.  This image still chills me.

“Normal is overrated.”

Off-handed comments like this rarely attract nor deserve my attention. However, this was no ordinary class. It was Bastrop campus’s first day back to school after Labor Day weekend in 2011. And this was no ordinary time. The world was on fire.

At that moment, the worst wildfire in Texas history was still only 75% contained. Flames reaching over 2,000 degrees ripped through 34,000 acres of where we called home. The remains of over 1,600 homes lay in heaps of crumpled metal and smoldering ash. Some of those homes belonged to students sitting within earshot, many of whom glanced my way. One of those homes, they well knew, belonged to their teacher.

The calm with which I interjected myself into the conversation surprised me. “With all due respect,” I said with a half-smile, “you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

“Those clothes you are wearing… were they the same ones in your closet yesterday? The bed you slept in last night… was it the same one you snuggled up in last week? The dishes you ate breakfast on this morning… were they the same ones you were served as a child? Oh no, my darling. Normal may be ridiculously taken for granted, but as I and many in this room can attest… it is far from overrated.”

He apologized for being cavalier, bless his heart. He did not know that I came to school thirty minutes early that morning, just so I could sit still and steep in my Normal. No answering of frantic phone calls or concerned emails. No people to whom I needed to recount the details of the last three days. No wondering where we would all be sleeping tonight. Standing in the doorway of my empty classroom, I finally let myself cry. Here today for a beautiful eight hours, I thought, my world will be all it always was.

I was somewhere beyond thankful. I wonder how many of my students felt the same.

Last week my beloved webmaster Howard had a heart attack at the age of 43. He and his wife Holly are easily our best friends. We have done everything together, from homeschooling our little ones to sifting through the charred remains of each other’s houses. But losing a husband is a much more terrifying threat to one’s Normal than a fire could ever be. That was just stuff. This is her love, her life. Five kids without a daddy plus one mommy with a broken heart equals a New Normal no woman wants to entertain.

For a moment, the world was on fire again.

Four stents later, Howard returned home this past Wednesday with a new diet (we too feel the loss of your Dr. Pepper, my friend) and a new perspective. It was not a coincidence that the same day Howard came home, my own husband finally decided to visit the doctor about some issues that were long bothering him. On Thursday afternoon both of them traveled all the way to Bryan and waited for hours in the freezing cold, just to see their sons compete in their first track meet.

Just like after the fire, loss—even the possibility of it—reminded us all to treasure the Blessed Normal.

About Mrs. Pahlow

Love English, love to teach.

One response »

  1. Joe Woolsey says:

    *stents… 😉
    Both my parents (Claude Woolsey–Band Dir & Carolyn Woolsey-6th Grade) taught in Bastrop, We lived there ’59-’61, ’64-’70, and I still regard it as “home”.

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