Our house was still smoking, the day an arsonist randomly set it on fire, when the questions began to pour in. "What do you need?" friends and neighbors started asking. Our family had all been at home and in bed when the fire was set, and we escaped with nothing but my laptop and the clothes on our backs. Yet I couldn't think of how to answer—until I remembered a line from a previous conversation with my neighbor, who was undergoing chemotherapy at the time: "Anything anyone does for my kids helps me."

So I began saying, "Gift cards for books. For the children."

I asked our children to list which stores they wanted gift certificates from. I began with our youngest, age 7 at the time. Eden sat down and made the list you see in the photo below (after the jump).

25¢

As we stood on the lawn, watching the house burn, she said, "I'm so glad I put most of my money in the bank this week!" We had made a recent trip to the credit union, but she had reserved a quarter.

TIGER BOOK

The night before the fire, we had begun reading Kate DiCamillo's The Tiger Rising, a book about grief and loss.

Then Eden listed,

STRTS (shirts)
SURS (shoes)
PANS
CLOTHING

Then she added,

LIFE

That pressed the air out of my chest.

I wept reading over her list. Then I tried to pin her down. (You see my personal list at the bottom of the photo.) "Would you like a gift certificate from Target or from Old Navy?" I was considering actual stores, but Eden got to the heart of her loss.

I pulled myself up. The child had said what she needed, so I gave her a quarter and called my dear friend, Jane, who ran out and bought The Tiger Rising that day. Clothes and books and toys and art supplies and gift cards came flooding in.

My husband, Paul, and I were at first reluctant ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Posted: