On January 9, 2011 — on the day The Philadelphia Eagles were scheduled to beat The Green Bay Packers and move up in the NFL playoffs — I burned our house down.

It was an accident. A stupid mistake. But it was my accident. It was my stupid mistake and because of it our home was destroyed, our family was displaced and our world changed.

The day before the fire, a friend had given us a goose and I smoked it along with a ham in our backyard smoker.  At four that afternoon I had taken the ham and goose off the smoker and sat the charcoal pan on the cement patio to cool and since it was twenty degrees that night, I simply poured the water tray over the charcoal instead of dousing it like I normally did.

The next afternoon — almost twenty hours later — I went to clean up the smoker and took the charcoal pan — which had stayed out all night, was cold to the touch and even had a thick coat of ice on top of it — and dumped it in our outside garbage can. A few hours later, some hidden spark that sill lived in the center of the charcoal pile reignited and the garbage can caught fire. Next to the garbage can was a recycling bin full of newspapers and junk mail that caught fire. Then the garage wall went up. Then the roof and within twenty minutes the fire had shot through the house at record speeds.

The rest of the day was pretty action packed and it included my thirteen year old son getting his mother out of the house safely — my wife was on the treadmill in the basement with her iPod on and she couldn’t here the smoke alarms — as well as neighbors running into the burning house to help. And as I had taken my oldest son and his friends to the mall, I also received one of those phone calls you hope you never get — your children are hurt, your wife is hurt, or your house is on fire. And on that day our lives changed.

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The key to this change is in the word unexpected. A fire is unexpected. So is a flood, a car accident, an injury at work, or a sudden death. These are all unexpected. They are events where in the course of a single day, life tilts. It changes. These are days when you go to bed living in one life, and go to bed the next night living in another. And we do this without the luxury of, yup, tomorrow is the day of the car accident, or tomorrow is the day we’ll get hurt, or tomorrow is the day someone breaks into our house. Nope. These events occur without our knowledge or permission.

And when they do, they divide time. There is the time before the fire. There is the time after the fire. There is that world before the car accident; before you needed to learn to walk again— and there is that new world that remains afterwards. It is one of the dividing lines that will determine the rest of your life.

Because regardless of what your challenges have been through, we all still go through life with a protective belief that although bad things happen — and we all acknowledge that they do — they just don’t happen to us. Not the big stuff anyway. We calculate the odds and accept that these odds are basically in our favor; that the chances of one of those life changing catastrophes happening to us are fairly slim. Sure a layoff can happen, but not a fire. Yeah, we could get into financial trouble, but a sudden death won’t happen. Or our home won’t be robbed. These are TV plots. These are the bad things that fall in other peoples lives. Not ours.

In the U.S. alone, 1,000 house fires occur everyday. On that same day there will be 60,000 injuries from car accidents and 4,000 people injured while their homes are robbed. According to the US Census, 9 million people this year will experience one of these unexpected life changing events and these nine million catastrophes will occur with one thing in common; the day before, everyone  involved, everyone, would have bet you their car that it wouldn’t’ happen to them.

Now, before you label this article as one that is selling fear and you roll your eyes in disgust, wait. This is not here to shock you or shame you or compel you to dedicate four hours a week to home fire drills and weekly tire pressure checks. The unexpected cannot be planned for and it shouldn’t be.

Yes, you can make sure your smoke alarms work and you don’t keep oily rags in the garage. Yes, you should have safe tires on your car and wear your seat belts. Yup. And once you done these things leave it alone. Because you can not plan for the unexpected and you shouldn’t waste your time worrying about what possibly might happen. You should take precautions and then you should leave it alone and live your life.

And actually, the odds are in your favor that that one of these big unexpected events won’t occur to you. Out of the 300 million people in this country, only 9 million will experience the unexpected this year — fire, serious car accident, unexpected death, robbery, etc. That’s less then 3%. The better news is, that if one of these events do happen — you’ll not only survive, you’ll actually thrive from it. I know, weird, huh?

The point of all of this is that I can now say that our fire was one of the defining moments for us. Now granted, no one got hurt in our fire, so I’m cheating a little and the things we lost in the fire, well, things can be replaced and they were. But the seven months that it took to rebuild our home we had a rental house by the lake. We were unplugged from our routines and the outside. We relied on each other and we spent more time together then we ever had. We were closer. We were stronger.

As a man, the unexpected — those events that cannot be planned for — happen. They occur without our consent and regardless of how prepared or unprepared we are. And when they do, they define us.


Everett De Morier has appeared on CNN, Fox News Network, NPR, ABC, as well as in The New York Times and The London Times. He is the author of Crib Notes for the First Year of Marriage: A...