Friday, October 26, 2007


A couple months ago, my boss was having me research info on fire safes. As with a number of businesses, we back up the information on our servers to a tape drive, and put the tapes in a small safe to protect them from fire and/or theft. If you're not familiar (which I'm guessing most people are not), fire safes are typically given ratings of one-hour, two-hour or three-hour, which is more or less considered the amount of time a given safe can sit in a typical building fire without the contents being damaged. My boss wasn't happy when I gave him the particulars of what these ratings mean on a more technical level, expressing that he wanted a safe that would offer complete protection and be truly fire-proof. I explained to him as it says on this website:

Remember, provided there is enough heat, NOTHING IS ACTUALLY FIREPROOF and everything WILL BURN.
As you likely have heard in the news, a large portion of Southern California is burning this week. Over thirty fires have consumed half a million acres of land (about half the size of Rhode Island), taken the lives of at least six people, injured over fifty firefighters, destroyed over 1,500 homes, and are still going at this time.

Like pretty much everything that happens around me, the fires caused some introspection and reflection. Even in areas like the one where I live that are not actually on fire, ashes fall continually, and the sky has been a brownish-orange for six days and probably will continue to be for some time even if the fires are extinguished soon. Everywhere is being effected.

But it did get a bit personal on Monday morning when I drove to work and found the street my office is on blocked off by police. I was a block away from work, and though I couldn't see the fire itself, I could tell from the smoke that it was just a block away again on the far side of my office. I was allowed through the roadblock and arrived at work where my boss informed me that we were not yet told to evacuate, but we knew there was a high likelihood of it as indeed, the fire was just a block away. He himself had gone to the roof of our building and taken pictures of the flames rising through the trees on a neighboring ridge earlier that morning.

I sat at my desk and took some time to survey the junk that usually litters it. Once the call came to evacuate, which was pretty much a sure thing, I wouldn't have time to grab more than one or two things off of my desk, so I decided to be preemptive and grab everything that was irreplaceable, put it in a bag, and take it to my car that moment. It stuck me as I was gathering up my belongings that there were some things that I brought to work with me because I thought they would be safer sitting in a drawer in my work desk than sitting in a drawer in a desk in my home. "What if something happened to my house?" I'd often thought in the past. "Better to bring this to work for safekeeping." Nothing of monetary value, just personal sentimental value. Now I had come to realize that work was not a safe place after all. About an hour later, in fact, my boss would be having me load office equipment into my car to take home for safekeeping, ironically including our fire safe.

I started to think about it all. I already knew that home was not safe. I don't have a safe, so important documents are kept in a cardboard box. Put the box on the floor, and it will be destroyed in a flood. Put the box on a high shelf and it will be destroyed in a fire. Put the box in my car and it will be destroyed in a car crash. Put it anywhere at all and it could be stolen.

Is buying a safe the answer, though? Testing safes for effectiveness is a very lengthy process, and few safes that are not priced at hundreds of dollars make it. They put them in furnaces to simulate fire conditions; then while still hot, they drop them from a certain height to simulate a collapsing building; then they submerge them in water to see if they keep watertight because no doubt the firefighters will dump hundreds of gallons of water into your office building to stop the burning. If you didn't choose a safe that was good enough for the sort of fire that hit your building (which of course, you can't predict), then your stored materials will be melted, charred, smashed and soaked.

But how much is enough to spend on a safe? As the quote above indicates, despite the fact that you can be very dedicated to finding a way to protect yourself from fire, there is a chance that some sort of catastrophe will come that will burn not just your documents, but the safe itself! Sure, it's not likely, but it is possible.

The point of all of this is that in the midst of worrying throughout the rest of the day about the thousands of dollars of office equipment and confidential information of clients that were loaded into my car, I realized I could guarantee no safety. Everything that I own, and everything that my employer had put me in charge of, all of it had potential to be lost, damaged, stolen or destroyed. What's a person to do?

There is a principle that Jesus taught, and I think it's one of a handful of principles that have practical application for all people, not just those who believe in Christ's deity. Yet it is not such an obvious one like, "Love thy neighbor as thyself," or "Thou shalt not kill." In Matthew 6, Jesus said,
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
I think most people think of this as a spiritual thing, and if you are a Christian, you definitely should, but there is a completely mundane and practical application to this. Buy yourself some fancy clothes, and eventually, they will rot away and go out of style. Buy yourself a cool car, and eventually it will break down and become a pile of scrap metal. Put your money in the bank and the bank will go under due to bad business decisions or embezzlement, the bottom will fall out of the value of the dollar, the stock market crashes and the real estate bubble bursts. Every worldly possession you have can, and eventually will go away.

But if you invest in educating children? If you invest in saving the environment? If you invest in peace, love, understanding, and all sorts of other hippy-dippy stuff like that? The return on that sort of investment is worth more than any amount of money.

A friend of mine remarked that when he watches the news these days, and sees people evacuated from fire areas, repeatedly they so often seem to cry out that they have lost "everything." He wondered to me, "Don't they still have their lives? Don't they still have their families? Don't most of them have insurance that will allow them to rebuild most if not just about all of what they did lose?" It would be a tragedy if I were to lose all those material possessions, no doubt. But so long as I have my wife, my children, and my God, I have all that I truly need. And even if I did lose my family, I would have the fond memories of the joy we shared. No fire can take that away from me.

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