Learning to cherish our lives: A reflection of the fire

Jenny Li

Before this week, Los Angeles felt incredibly distant from the outside world, impenetrable and shielded from any real devastation. Waking to the sound of sirens before sunrise to discover that another uncontained wildfire had engulfed houses just minutes away was utterly surreal.

Many of my friends left their homes early this morning with the few material possessions they could bring. More are like me, waiting with packed bags in the car, watching the ravaging flames scorch hills and homes on the news, praying the fire does not hit us too.

For many, today was a real-life enactment of those games we play as children: what would you bring if you were stuck on an island? What would you do on your last day? What would you bring if your house was burning down?

I had much more time to prepare for evacuation than those more directly affected by the fire. Every item I touched felt significant—my old dog’s collar, the photo of me and my toothy smile taken on my brother’s tenth birthday—they all carried a piece of me that I could not bear to leave behind. It felt impossible to think about leaving a home behind, to leave years of laughter and tears to burn in the flames.

Today, I watched Los Angeles burn—the Thomas fire, Rye, Liberty, Skirball, Creek—they all just kept spreading. I had been so unbelievably fortunate that I didn’t wake up to flaming embers. I wasn’t forced to flee my home or risk my life, grabbing the few items in the rush out the door. I cannot begin to imagine how heart-wrenching it must be for it all to erupt into flames, to be left with nothing but the feeling of utter emptiness.

I realized that so many small details and inconveniences that I have been worried about this week are so unimportant and minute. The threat of losing everything changes the value of everything: items, relationships, memories, homes. Items dissipate so easily with the smoke.

It is impossible to control and know where life is going to end up. So much in my life has been taken for granted, and I have never imagined what it would be like for it all to be burnt into nothingness. It is so incredibly important to cherish what we have, for as long as we can. In the chaos and the rubble of burnt homes, this is something we know will be unchanged and unbroken.