Many of us have helplessly watched this week as wild fires raged around the resort areas of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. We’ve waited and we’ve prayed and we’ve hoped that the rampage could be contained and the area impacted as little as possible. And while we’ve waited we’ve watched, often as memories disappeared in the smoke and flames, memories that were embodied by the material possessions being consumed.
We grow attached to our stuff, and there’s no shame in that as long as we remember it’s just stuff. But that stuff often represents a tangible connection to a time or a place or a person that holds meaning in our lives. When that connection is lost, for whatever reason, we can feel as though the mental and emotional connection is lost as well. My daughter texted me during the day saying “Hillbilly Golf is gone” followed by a crying emoji. For years immediately after Christmas we went to Gatlinburg as a family—and it didn’t matter how cold it was, we were going to play putt-putt at Hillbilly Golf. It was mandatory. A later report stated the course had survived but with damage. She made sure to let me know that a memory from her past had not disappeared completely.
There are so many places we would visit when we traveled east: The Peddler Steak House, The Pancake Pantry, The Ole’ Smoky Candy Kitchen. (Do you see a pattern here? Food played a huge role on our trips.) We always visited Ripley’s Believe It or Not, The Mountain Mall—and we loved The Village Shops where The Donut Friar and the Cheese Cupboard reside (there’s that food thing again). And we can’t forget The Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge. Some of us could spend hours there, just wandering ‘mongst all things Christmas. As I listened to the reports, I was relieved to learn that most of my memories survived unscathed. But that relief was tempered by the realization that lives have been lost, wildlife has perished, and the beautiful mountains we love so well are now charred shadows of their former glory.
The loss of material possessions pales in the light of actual and presumed loss of life. However, for those who find themselves safe but their homes gone, there will be grief over what they once held dear. As I mentioned earlier, those possessions are often links to something or someone that is no longer here, and when those links are gone our grief begins all over again. Chris MacPherson of The Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre (which we also love), managed to escape with his pets and the clothes on his back. Everything else was lost, including the 1971 Sweet Fanny Adams Volkswagen Beetle that belonged to his late father. That connection cannot be replaced and the grief for his father will now expand to include grief for something that was a tangible reminder of him, something that Don MacPherson loved and entrusted to his son.
It doesn’t have to be a devastating forest fire or a flood or tornado that impacts thousands to bring about new or renewed grief. Every day people suffer individual tragedies that steal tangible pieces of their past, pieces that can never be replaced, and the lack of national attention does not lessen the pain—if anything it might actually increase it. Any tragedy that draws the world’s attention will also draw the world’s support, but loss on a smaller scale, confined to one person or a family, is often their loss to bear alone. We must be mindful that, great or small, loss is loss; there will always be pain and there will always be someone who needs our support.