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by Cherie T. Buisson, DVM, CHPV
Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian
Originally published on DrAndyRoark.com

When I heard about the fire at our local park, I was shocked and upset. My husband and I ride our bikes or walk through that park almost every morning. We have friends there – both animal and human. I worried for the bunnies, birds, and squirrels as well as the proud pines and palmettos. The first time I saw the scars, I wanted to cry. I was grateful that it was only part of the park, but the fact that it was damaged at all hurt my heart.

Forest fires are actually a beneficial force of nature. They clean up debris and even make some seeds sprout.  Sometimes controlled burns are used by people to stop invasive species. We’re taught from a young age to fear and respect fire but also that it can keep us warm.

In our lives, we get burned. Bad things happen. Bad people happen. We make mistakes. For me, an out-of-the-blue divorce was my forest fire. I was devastated. It was a long time before I felt like myself again. I learned from that time more than any other in my life. I found out who my real friends were. I discovered people I thought I barely knew really cared enough to call, send a card or stop by. I bonded with my younger brother who took me out for sushi.  I realized I had a stubborn streak and a backbone.

It’s taken almost a decade, but I can finally say that I’m incredibly grateful for my divorce. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if that part of me hadn’t been burned to ashes. What grew in its place was better than I could have imagined. I lived alone for a year. I got to just be me without explanation or apology. I went crazy and painted, redecorated – I made my house my own. Don’t get me wrong – I suffered. I lost 10 pounds in the first few months because I couldn’t stomach much beyond scrambled eggs and oatmeal. I cried until my face had what seemed to be permanent gouges (they weren’t).  I had to be treated for anxiety.

It was all worth it.

I know myself better now. I see my strengths and my flaws and (try to) embrace both. I chose to keep walking forward until I found my happy again. The most important thing I learned was that I wouldn’t go back and tell myself not to get married. I wouldn’t trade all the good things that happened for the ability to avoid the pain, and that’s a really, really big deal.

Less than a month after the park burned, my husband and I walked hand-in-hand through the damage. The tree trunks were black, and I could still smell the smoke. The grove was unusually quiet; the squirrels and birds had not returned. Then I looked closer. Here and there were bursts of green where the stubborn palmettos gave the fire the finger and grew again. Each week, there was more vibrant, verdant foliage. While the scars will remain for a long time, the desolation didn’t last. The forest moved on because it didn’t know any better.

We know. The knowing and the fear of the future hold us back. If we just make a plan to put one foot in front of the other and give ourselves a chance to heal, we can find happiness again. Or even find it for the first time. The fire happened in March. Here’s what the area looked like in June.  That tall grass? It wasn’t there before – it’s new and beautiful. The blackness of the tree bark actually makes the green of the grass more vivid.

My husband is fond of saying “everyone gets something”. Whether it’s cancer, the loss of a parent, a failed marriage or getting fired, you will have to play the cards you are dealt. If you can survive the bad things that happen, you can reinvent yourself with an entirely new supply of wisdom at your disposal. You can become more vivid, more solid and stronger than you ever thought possible. You can become less afraid. Once the worst in your life has happened to you, you realize you don’t have to be scared of what’s to come. You gain confidence knowing you can face it and come out the other side.