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Learning What You Know in a New Way: My Fire Story

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

by Mary Rudd

In 2013, after several minutes of trying to escape a burning house and some of us failing to get out, my friends and I had a moment. We had tried several exits only to find them blocked for one reason or another, and as the smoke and flames grew around us, we thought we found a new option: We could escape through the outside door to the basement! Once we made it down the steps, we discovered that the door to the outside would not open, and there were bars on the windows. Smoke was already filling the basement and we could see the flames engulfing the external walls of the house through the windows.

We stood together, still and silent, listening to the house above us falling in melting, charring pieces.

In that moment, I saw a vision of myself lying face down on the ground, lifeless. And then I saw the faces of my children and my husband as they tried to comprehend that I was gone. Simultaneously, I had the most honest dialogue with God of my life. From that wrenching emotion and vision, I thought,“Really? This is the way it ends? My life, gone, tonight, like this? Well, I say, NO!”

Instantly, I came back to the present, to my friends standing in the dark with me, and said, “No, this is not happening today! We are going to get out of here, I don’t know how, but we are.” From that moment, we all sprang into action to prise open the door.

We did escape, thankfully. There are many stories within this story, and most of them detail the most beautiful and kind humanity that I have ever experienced.


I am writing this on my birthday. I have resisted writing this story because it is too close to the center of what I now know cannot be touched by language. No telling of it will capture “it”. I have made my peace with that. I continue to accept that my experience is for me, not anyone else. Having lived most of my life in the “teacher” pattern, it truly is a miracle to realize that something could be just for myself. But there is always a third way, and some people have encouraged me to write about my experience. Maybe something here will resonate with others.


I have shared the words that I said that night but I will never be able to share the richness, the hues and textures of what I felt. What I can share is that in that moment, I realized what a beautiful life I had lived to that point. I realized that I knew love, had lived love. I understood what the sages mean when they say that we humans “are love.” It was a moment of crystal clear understanding beyond anything I could have imagined. It was a life changing letting go of thoughts and concerns that are on the periphery of life. This letting go happened by default as I zeroed in on what really matters.

Before that moment of “no”, which I now understand was an essential “yes”, I would have told you that I understood the preciousness of life. And I did understand it, to the extent that my life experiences had provided.

But something fundamental changed for me in that crystal clear moment. One of the beautiful things about it is that I have a deep well of gratitude and strength to live my truth without as much fear as in the past.


The essential "yes" to life means that I turn a large portion of the energy and attention I had been giving to others toward myself. The unbound sweetness of life rises and flows and covers the bitterness and doubt, which are also essential, but outweighed in our minds. This unbalanced focus on mistakes and on lacking something is an error in our comprehension of life. To experience love is a miracle and all that we must do is uncover it and accept it. Allow it, first within ourselves, and then, more openly, with others. Our loud, hyped up culture drowns simple beauty and abundance. “Enoughness” is not so well known in our culture. But many of us have enough. More than enough. If we knew that, maybe the world would balance itself a little better.

Knowing the essential yes makes me more aware of the suffering in the world AND allows me to feel joy. It is important to know and be present with both. When people experience trauma, part of the ongoing struggle can be that the rest of the people around us perhaps do not "see" this moment. Within the ever-present challenges we face in our world, we have opportunity to be part of the miracle of life: kindness and compassion to another. To be seen and to feel the care of another aids us in accepting our own seeing and caring for ourself. We all find ourselves on either side of this dynamic, and how we respond matters more than we think it does.


I know that I am not alone. My work as a somatic educator has provided me insight into the human condition and the journey we all have to make in accepting gentleness, compassion, and love. Some people reading these words now will have a negative reaction to them. They will feel discomfort if not disbelief. I understand that.

Some discomfort and pain can be alleviated or greatly reduced by shifting one’s motivation toward kindness and gentleness rather than correction and fixing. You might be surprised how such a shift changes your movement and way of acting in the world.

The night of the fire, the neighbors surrounded us, playing their parts in the story. Some neighbors brought water and blankets to us. Others brought clipboards, asked us questions, took notes. I sometimes consider how my healing would have been different if there had been no water and blanket carriers in those first moments I spent outside of the burning house.


Yesterday I told someone what a miracle my life feels like. There is beauty all around and inside of me. Like everyone else, I make mistakes all the time. I am keenly aware of how often I am wrong, misunderstand things, jump to conclusions, fail to be perfect in my relationships. Seeing both the beauty and not-so-beautiful, I have more balance, now. Balance is not supposed to be perfection.

What has changed is my response to my imperfection. I don’t view shortcomings and mistakes as imperfections at all, really. In the loving relationship that I have with myself, all faults are forgiven and rolled into the complexity and wonder of living an authentic life. Like a spouse, child, or parent who loves someone through the flaws, so can I, with myself.

And that is the “yes” that I give to myself on my birthday and on every other day. It is more than enough.


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