When you see a fire on television, it focuses on the dramatic destruction and chaos it brings in the moment. But that moment of flash and flame is just a moment. When the soot settles and the water dries, that’s where the damage starts.

When you’re allowed back in your home after a fire, if you’re lucky, you’re in shock. I use the term lucky and shock loosely here. We were and it put us back a few steps from really understanding what had happened. So, we saw the “stuff” in our house through a glazed lens, and it distanced us from the contents of our home being ours. We would look at items and think “I used to have that book” or “I had a coat like that.”

But other items brought us back to stark reality. This camera was my grandfather’s and my grandmother gave it to me in the late 90s. Up until the fire, I could still take amazing photos with it. But here it is, soot corroding the glass, ash jamming the mechanisms, and heat melting the film that was inside it. It cannot be repaired, and it is impossible to replace it — not because I can’t find a Graflex Graphic 35. This is a piece of personal history.

Its destruction underlined what was important and what was not. We removed (and they are still in my car in garbage bags until I have the space to go through them) the few things that were important to us. Our wedding albums, our passports, hard drives with photos embedded in them, a guitar. And over the next few days, we took a few more things out. But not much. The rest of it was replaceable. It had to be. And this one event firmly cemented a thought that had been brewing for a long, long time: material things are just not that important.