My Family, The Phoenix

My family has lost everything not once, but twice.

The first time I was thirteen and I remember the day we vacated my childhood home the way you remember the first time your heart gets broken, the scar deep and forever surfacing to feed your fears. The second time was just over two years ago when my brother and I watched our home be devoured in flames while the firefighters struggled to get up our snow packed road. The path between the two seems littered with smaller losses and paved with the distrust of good times. And for good reason. With the shadow of the last great loss barely passing behind us, we stand to lose it all again.

It’s funny how much of our peace we place in material things. A home, in its essence, really just represents shelter. And aside from that, what we need to survive should be quite simple: food, clothes, water. Yet, through psychology we know that a person needs two more things to be happy: security and purpose. The continuous loss of the first has given my family an unusual but strong purpose and that purpose is to flourish in the face of tribulation.

Yellowstone National Park has been a symbol of peacefulness and new beginnings to my family since we first moved to Montana nearly 10 years ago. Last summer, our company was awarded a three-year contract by the government to reconstruct some roads in Yellowstone. It seemed like an unexpected blessing in what felt to us like God’s country. For the first time in my memory, we were able to work only an hour away from our homes. Unfortunately, my family suffered one of the hardest seasons of our lives and it came with what had promised to be such a gift.

In January, we found out that they government had dissolved our contract. This would’ve been all fine and dandy if we could just walk away from it, but in the federal world, nothing is ever as simple as that. The government claimed we defaulted which, to simplify, basically means we broke the contract and because of that, they were going to come after our bonding insurance—worth millions of dollars. It didn’t matter that we had not broken the contract or that there was a good chance the federal representatives were making this decision because of their faulty, badly-engineered plans to get a chance to fix them before the next poor contractor entered Hades’ layer.

Today we are up to our eyeballs in paperwork preparing to go court to fight for our lives, and trying to figure out how we are going to come up with the money they demand up front. In the face of all this crap, given our past especially, it is so difficult to keep faith—to be resilient. It is much easier to ask why this keeps happening to us when we are good people. It makes me hate money and everything and everyone that ambitiously starves for it; it makes me hate how much our lives are defined by whether or not we have it. This never-ending hunt for riches steals my peace and turns me into this hateful person I barely recognize.

Through everything, all the dark corners we have found ourselves in, our family has been our strength. We have learned to find what security we can in each other because every other kind is fleeting and unpredictable. These experiences in my life have led me to have a stronger bond with my family than most. They are not just my blood, they are my best friends, my heart, my true purpose in life, my only solace in a world where lights have a tendency to wink out much too soon. We have been the poorest of the poor and we have been abundantly prosperous, but no matter what part of the path life finds us, we will always be rich because we have each other. That is our greatest gift, our purist blessing.

A.M. San Nicolas

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