A World on Fire

Now what?

On the news last night I watched an interview with a guy in California. He was just allowed to return and found his home remained standing, but most of his neighbors’ properties… gone.

Photo by Dawn Armfield on Unsplash

I could only watch, listen and sadly, knowingly, shake my head.

Unless you have ever come to a point in time where you suddenly realize you have lost everything in the world, you will never understand what it means.


Sixteen years ago I had moved to Asheville, North Carolina to buy a home. Asheville, NC is one of the nicest places one could live. Housing was affordable, the 4 seasons were mild, and the valley one of the most beautiful places in the country.

Working as an over-the-road truck driver (a kind of weird “bucket list” kinda thing) after a recent divorce, I received an urgent call from my sister in NY while I was in Asheville. Our Mom was in the hospital in a coma. I left immediately and drove the 12 hours straight through to my sister’s home.

Twenty-four hours later I was standing in the hospital at a nurses station where my Mom was located and remained in a coma. The doctor could not understand why she remained in a coma. She wasn’t responding to the drugs to bring her out of the coma.

I asked if he had been informed that she was an alcoholic, something my family never thought to tell him I guess, and the doctor had never asked. I asked if that played a part. The doctor was so pissed-off when I mentioned that, he threw his clipboard across the room, startling all of us.

THAT was why. The doctor blamed himself and told me that he typically would just assume anyone over 65 was an alcoholic. I asked why and he said almost everyone from that generation had proven to be an alcoholic.

So standing there discussing this with him, my cell phone rang. It said FEMA on my phone and I thought “what the hell?” It was indeed from a FEMA official. I was told I had 24 hours to get to Asheville and attempt to claim anything I owned in a storage facility.

Keep in mind this all came after a divorce, after losing my business because I had to move, after having to leave my house and live in a motel, after driving across the country, after having a $5000 deposit stolen from me by a seller and the local real estate board. All this within just a few months. Now my Mom, and this.


Turns out remnants of a killer hurricane in the Gulf had followed the mts. from Georgia north, and inundated the Asheville area, flooding it with the worst flooding they had experienced in over 225 years. My storage area was on the 1st floor, and the watermark from the river was 5 feet from the floor.

The French-Broad River in Asheville, normally more of a large creek in areas, had risen above the banks, spread across a road maybe 50 yards, and continued to rise to approx. five feet. The entire storage building was about to be demolished due to fears of disease.

A fire crew broke down the door, and in I went. Understand, there was still over almost 2 feet of water. All I could do was fish around blindly, trying to remember where things were. I was depressed, devastated. Tears streaming from my eyes in this water-logged, dank, dark room made it impossible to see. I didn’t want to see, to be honest.


Everything was destroyed… gone. Many items from my grandparents and my childhood, just gone. Record albums I had collected that dated back to the early 30’s through the 70’s … gone. Autograph collection, books, photographs, literally everything from my childhood… gone. Why me, after everything I had been through… why me?

It took me a while to realize the extent of loss and the fact I was now sitting in a motel room, in a town where I knew no-one, owning nothing but my 2000 Dodge pickup truck and the clothes on my back. Lost was my guitar equipment, my vintage stereo system, and various collections dating back 40 years including old, vintage record albums worth thousands upon thousands of dollars.

I sat on the bed in that motel room and cried as I watched the news that evening interviewing a man on the Northern Florida coast, sitting on his pickup truck, all he had left. Like me. His truck and the clothes on his back. I then realized how selfish my thinking was. I was not alone. There were thousands in the same boat as myself.

So as we all continue to watch the catastrophes taking place in California, Louisianna, Alabama, and elsewhere, take a moment and send a prayer. And know that everything lost, even if irreplaceable, nothing compares to life. Life can be rebuilt. Even homes can be rebuilt. Memories we will always have.

Everything else… is just “stuff”. Gone, yes. But it’s still just “stuff”.

When thinking back to that day, it still is as depressing as can be imagined. Until you have lost everything… everything in the world … knowing you will never replace or view or touch ANY of those items, you really can never hope or pretend to know what that is like.



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From the Mountain ~ Stories & Photos of JD Adams

From the Mountain ~ Stories & Photos of JD Adams

Writer ~ Photographer “From the Mountain” I write from a mountain top, in the Blue Ridge Mts. jdadams@penandaperture.com