Hamster Wheel Dreams

My second-story master bedroom has two southwest-facing windows. One of them has a treadmill facing out to where I or my wife can look outside while we are on it and pretend we are something that might be different than a hamster on a wheel. If you were to look out of this or the other mentioned window you would see over my backyard and beyond my neighborhood where you could behold a firehouse and rolling hills on the outskirts of our Dallas/Fort Worth suburban community. Past the firehouse, perched on and around some of these hills, is a neighborhood. This isn’t just any neighborhood. It is the type of neighborhood that a large number of people (including yours truly) and their families plan to visit at least twice every December with the intent to view an unspoken friendly competition between families with $10,000+ Christmas light budgets and to see what they might put up this year to one-up each other.

Four to five days a week for thirty to forty-five minutes I’m on my treadmill for some light to moderate aerobic activity and I look out of that window. I get to see that neighborhood from a slight distance. It’s a great view with plenty of greenery and I would be lying if I said that I haven’t spent hours considering what life will be like when I get to have a house like those I see on and around those hills. I think of what it would be like to walk my dog in that neighborhood. I don’t currently have a dog but in this fantasy he is necessary, and he has to be a large breed. He also has to be male, not sure why.  I would wave at cars as they passed and we would enjoy the mist that comes off of the neighbors’ sprinkler systems in the light breeze (I also forgot to mention that it’s always that perfect time between spring and summer in these daydreams). We get home and my perfectly-behaved mastiff or great dane is unleashed to go and do whatever perfectly-behaved dogs do when you aren’t observing them. I head to my enormous office with two walls trimmed in mahogany, one wall that is nothing but books, and the other wall that is just a huge window to enjoy an afternoon of light, project fulfillment, and enjoyable phone calls with my clients (this is a work day, another thing I forgot to tell you earlier). Afterwards the family comes home from school and errands, or maybe they were there the whole time but non-interruptive of the work, and we enjoy our late afternoon and evening together.

Thoughts like the one above allow me to continue to come back to that treadmill. They have helped me in the past to put in another day of work, plan out the week/month/year, and continue the path of running my own businesses instead of settling for the easier roads in life. These fantasies are fun and silly. They are a symptom of my optimism. They are a salve to the burn of a difficult day.

January 10th, 2020 I was working with a client team who’s office is fifty-two minutes (with good traffic) from my house. I was there from 7:30AM (meaning I had left home at least fifty-two minutes earlier) and had not really paid attention to the weather forecast. I knew there would be some rain but did not realize that later that afternoon we were to expect severe weather in our region. I was clueless of what would happen later in the day and was scheduled to stay with our client at their office until at least 6:30 that evening. The morning went perfect, everything with the client was going well and the weather had stayed just the way I like it in early January, cool with a little mist. After lunch we would occasionally hear someone mention something about an expected period of heavy rain or the possibility of hail but, as I’m an optimist, I assumed it would not hit us and it certainly would not hit where my family was. The day and work continued. I checked in with my family on occasion via phone calls and text. We were looking forward to the weekend (this day was a Friday) and making plans for the next day since I was going to be home late. Just as it was beginning to get dark I called my wife to check in again, when she answered she asked if I had heard of any tornado warnings in our area because she could hear warning sirens going off in our community. She told me that she and our three boys were in our safe space downstairs and that she was very worried. I immediately went to an office in our client’s building where the t.v. had local weather on (the client and his team were in their conference room, closed off) and sure enough there were reports of a tornado touching down very near our neighborhood. I told her to stay where they were and we would remain on the phone until things were safe. A few minutes passed, everything (for our family) was fine. There was some rain, light hail, plenty of wind, and a lot of lightening but they were all ok. As planned, I finished the day with the client, discussed the weather situation heading our way, and went home on the safest route through the storm I could find.

Once I made it home, everything seemed okay. The family was just sitting down to dinner and I joined them. We went through our usual end of day routine and ate. We talked about what they did, what I did, and what we were going to do together the next day. Bedtime came around and we left the table. Just as we were getting up we heard firetruck sirens, then police sirens, then more firetruck sirens. We hear sirens all the time. As mentioned earlier, we live near the firehouse. This was different. We are used to hearing the sirens leave. There were more sirens coming from multiple directions to our area, this was close. I looked out of every ground-floor window and even went outside to the front and back yards, but saw nothing. After realizing that it wasn’t in our immediate vicinity I locked up, let everyone know it was okay, and we all went upstairs to get ready for bed. We brushed teeth, changed into night-clothes, and as I was on my way to our closet to put my children’s day-clothes into the laundry hamper I looked out of my second-story master bedroom window to see it, the house on fire. It was one of those in my fantastic neighborhood. Of course, it wasn’t in the secondary or tertiary part of the neighborhood, but one of four homes that sat at the very pinnacle of the highest visible hill. Flames flew what seemed like over one-hundred feet in the air and made the night air seem much blacker than what it was in reality. I told my wife that I had found the destination of the sirens and she, I, and our boys were able to watch through the window as the red and white lights traveled up the hill to create a perimeter around the burning structure. My wife cried, I stood and watched in awestruck fascination. The fire was huge. We prayed with our sons that the family was safe and told ourselves they were probably out on the town. It was around 7:45 on a Friday night and we were able to look away after convincing ourselves that they must have not been at home.

We read in the newspaper the next morning that the family was unharmed. The fire was caused by a lightening strike from the storm and there wasn’t much the fire teams could do. The fire spread quickly, consuming the entire wood structure. When we drove by that house while in the neighborhood two-weeks later the exact definition of “only a shell” was left. We realized that the stone facade that now stood empty had recently contained much of what many people hold to as the foundation of their life.

It would be gratuitously cliche’ to remind myself and the reader that it is our God and family, maybe our accomplishments, that we should regard as the solid rock that we build this thing called “my life” upon. It is easy and common to flippantly dismiss the loss to the family whose home we witnessed burn to the ground, being only left with stacked brick, and say “at least the family was unharmed”. I cannot assume they were unharmed. I must believe that they had spent years of planning to be in a neighborhood like that. I think they had memories with children and grandkids in those rooms. I have to imagine they spent a career of trudging through doing what they were told was impossible to achieve a station in life where they could afford the indulgence of waving at cars as they passed while enjoying the mist that comes off of the neighbors’ sprinkler systems in the light breeze as they walked their medium to large breed dog.

Now, four to five days a week for thirty to forty-five minutes I’m on my treadmill for some light to moderate aerobic activity and I look out of the window in my second story southwest facing bedroom. I get to see that neighborhood from a slight distance, and I remember that those fantasies aren’t guaranteed. They are fun and silly. They are a symptom of my optimism. They are a salve to the burn of a difficult day. But they do not stand up when reality hits. I now understand that while the future could be better, right now is very good. I now realize that I have what I need for today and I am deeply grateful. I now know that even if it is accomplished, my dream could be stripped away and I would be lucky to be left with my family, whom I have with me right now and can enjoy while I’m certain we have time together. I now remember that I should probably look into pricing on lighting rods.

Don’t wait until you’ve “made it” to live.