Trial by Fire

I thought stuff didn't matter

Toward the end of his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul writes, “I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content."

I learned recently, the hard way, how far I am from that state of being.

My wife and I were sitting down to a Sunday dinner—pork, roasted fruit—when we saw the lights flicker and heard an alarm downstairs. I opened the door to our apartment and saw smoke curling from under the door to our landlord’s apartment on the first floor. We knew they were away—they had left for dinner some twenty minutes before. We called 911 and waited outside. I had the presence of mind to leave our door unlocked and made sure the firemen were able to get through the glass outer door downstairs without smashing it. We watched as smoke billowed from the windows on the first floor and the windows were smashed, and wondered how far the fire would spread. The lights in our apartment went out. Someone in the gathering crowd asked if we had apartment insurance, and I said no, but it really didn’t matter. What would be lost, if the apartment burned, couldn’t be replaced: an icon and an oil painting I inherited from my parents, my uncle’s chalice, photos of the family, letters from friends. We watched, wondering if we were about to lose not only everything we owned—all of those things—but also a place we had grown to love being in: a light-filled apartment, a great view of the sky.

After a...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.