Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


What You Can't Live Without

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

October 9, 2017



This essay, What You Can't Live Without, is the first in a trilogy on the North Bay Firestorm:
  1. What You Can't Live Without
  2. Flames In My Rear View Mirror
  3. Repainting Life On A (Suddenly) New Canvas
in that order.

The trilogy on the North Bay Firestorm is the prequel to Still Standing Still.

Conversations For Transformation receives its one and a quarter millionth view with the publishing of What You Can't Live Without.



Photography by Josh Edelson

courtesy Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/The Sun
Signorello Estate, Silverado Trail, Napa Valley, California, USA - 2:03:42am Monday October 9, 2017


The thing about a wildfire is it straightens you out real  fast about what's really  important in life. Some people have no time to salvage anything before they evacuate. One moment they're homeowners with all the things homeowners accumulate in a home. The next moment, all they have is the clothes on their back, and a pile of rubble and ash where their home and possessions once were. Don't pretend: you can't begin  to imagine what that's like unless you've experienced it first hand first.

Try this on as an exercise. A wildfire is advancing on your home. There's nothing you can do to stop it. You have some time to evacuate, say half an hour max (half an hour is really quite a luxury: some people have mere seconds). You have a vehicle with which to evacuate (but imagine if you didn't?)  in which you can take at least a few possessions and items you can't live without. Here's the question: of everything you own, what do you take with you? Quick! The clock's ticking ...

There was no order to evacuate our area before a brush fire turned into a monster. That's because this firestorm literally exploded  out of nothing. From nowhere, it was everywhere  all around us even before the first alarms went out. At 10:32pm on the night of Sunday October 8, 2017 I felt a soft, warm breeze on my face. A breeze in Napa Valley is surprisingly rare. Hawai'i has its constant trade winds. If you've ever been to Hawai'i, you'll know a calm day in Hawai'i is rare. In contradistinction, in Napa Valley a wind is rare. It was so lovely, I stopped and threw my head back, letting it caress me. By 12:15am early in the morning of Monday October 9, 2017, less than two hours later, I could see fifty foot flames on both ridges of the Napa Valley which didn't look very hospitable or friendly, driven by the now strong wind. It came on that  fast. Now bolt upright, I realized I may have to get out in a hurry if the wind turned and fanned the inferno in my direction.

I began looking around inside the Cowboy Cottage at everything  in it through suddenly new eyes, sharply discriminating  eyes, eyes of "Can I live without this? Can I live without this?".

The first "No!" came as I looked at photographs and photograph albums. Grabbing the entire cabinet drawer in which I store them, I put it in the trunk of my car, along with my children's artwork. Financial and legal papers were next. Clothes can always be replaced - a whole lot easier than last year's tax returns, receipts, insurance policies etc. Even so, I grabbed three of everything (shirts, slacks, socks etc), put them in a travel bag which also went into the trunk. A spare laptop and power cord. Vitamins. Special gifts from my father and my mother ... and soon, with many things still remaining in the Cowboy Cottage and no room to breathe in my 2007 Toyota Yaris  sedan, I'd reached the point where all the things still in the Cowboy Cottage could be replaced easily if necessary. Then I started the Yaris, reversed it out of the carport, then re-parked it facing outwards  in case an order to evacuate came (at which point, critical time may not allow for a laborious three-point turn).

Selfie by Laurence Platt

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

3:10:42pm Tuesday October 10, 2017
Then, having planned my escape and now (almost implausibly) with time on my hands, I sat back down at my table, gazing through the window at a ten mile orange curtain of flame dancing on the top of the ridge a few miles in front of me, completed the essay I was writing ("Final Release" which distinguishes integrity's impact on performance), sent out its announcement by e‑mail to two thousand people or so worldwide (internet service worked although my cell phone's connectivity had gone AWOL)  then went for walk in the cattle pasture to get a closer look, having tied a damp bandana over my nose and mouth. It was around 12:45am in the morning of Monday October 9, 2017.

As I search for the words to try to describe what I saw (all of which suddenly seem so inadequate), "surreal" doesn't even come close (I later overheard a man say "It's too late to repent: this is hell!" - which said it all, at least visually). I don't often talk to God. But when I do, it's pretty authentic. The thing that was causing the fire to spread so rapidly and wreaking so much havoc, is it was by now a very windy night. Gusts were blowing at around forty five miles an hour in the Napa Valley, and at around seventy miles an hour in the adjacent Sonoma Valley. At that point I just stood out-here  alone ie by ... my ... Self  in the cattle pasture and, with ash falling down like snowflakes on my shoulders, bowed my head, and closed my stinging, watering eyes.

What I said to God (what I whispered nakedly  to God, actually) was "Please stop ... just stop ...". It was like I was listening my own words speaking themselves. They were referring to the gusts. By now, it was quite plain what we needed was a shift in the wind.

I won't give you my riveting news footage here. You've already seen it on TV. What I'll venture for you from my own personal experience however, is there's a moment in any episode like this when you get to choose who you're going to be, regardless of the circumstances. Help isn't on the way. The cavalry's not coming. Mummy and Daddy can't make it all better now. You're on ... your ... own. I watched the local TV station for updated information. They said "2:00am: zero percent containment", then "5:00am: zero percent containment", then "1:00pm: zero percent containment", then twenty four hours later:  "zero percent containment". A friend e-mailed me: "I can't believe this is happening.". I e-mailed back: "Believe it. It's happening.".

The idea that you get to choose who you're going to be regardless of the circumstances, is vintage Erhard. I know it's an idea you're likely to have heard before. But you've never heard it quite like this. And no, you don't need an experience as intense as this to validate his idea for yourself. What's interesting is that it does.

By the way, the wind did stop, giving firefighters a break they needed. I guess God changed her mind.



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© Laurence Platt - 2017 Permission