Why we party: Losing our house gave us a better life

A house fire that took most of Lorie Mundorf's material possessions also taught her family the meaning of togetherness.

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  • Lorie Mundorf writes about the event that changed their family forever
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First Person is a series of personal essays exploring identity and personal points of view that shape who we are. Lorie Mundorf lives in Franklin, Indiana. She first shared a version of this story on CNN iReport.

(CNN)There are two types of people in the world, separated by whether or not they have had "the moment."

The first type goes along thinking about how busy they are, or how much happier they would be if they could afford a new car or a bigger house, worrying and trying to work harder, earn more, do more. That used to be me: Working more hours to make more money to get more things.
I missed quality time with the children because I was working, always working. I worked about 12 hours a day and even when I was home, my attention wasn't all there. My middle daughter, Sara, will never forget that I didn't show up for her awards assembly when she was 8.
    I don't even remember missing it.
    I was focused on making enough money. Enough for a pool table, enough for a hot tub, enough for unnecessary things that humans want.
    The second type of people seem to spend all their time having one celebration or another, going on trips at a moment's notice, always doing things together, seemingly living irresponsibly.
    We, now, are (mostly) the latter.
    Our moment came along 7 years ago this month. This time of year always brings back the memories, although the pain diminishes each time. It was November 2, 2007, a day that is seared forever, irrevocably in our minds.
    It started out as a typical evening. Our oldest son, Brandon, had a friend over. Sara was having a sleepover with two of her friends. Our oldest daughter, Heather, was working at the local pizza joint, my husband, Keith, had just come in with pizza, and our youngest two, Emily and Kyle, were watching TV. I was in my bedroom, the window behind me, talking to Brandon.
    The moment that changed our lives forever started with a very simple statement from Brandon.
    "The porch is too bright."
    To which I responded, "Maybe the patio lights are on?"
    "No, it's too bright," he said.
    He left to check and that was it. He yelled, "The house is on fire," and not even 30 seconds later, all the smoke detectors went off. My husband got all the kids out, while I tried to save the animals -- my beloved dog, Cujo, three cats and three kittens. I tried to grab one cat after another, but they were wrestling out of my arms and running off, trying to hide.
    I made it out the side door we always used and my dog would not follow me. I stayed at that door as long as I could, screaming his name, desperately hoping he would bolt out the door at any second, wanting to go back in, but knowing that the children needed their mother.
    In less than two minutes, we were all outside, the three-bedroom house we were renting totally engulfed in flames, us in stocking feet and the clothes on our backs. Our children and their friends made it out. The animals did not.
    The cause of the fire was never determined.
    What remained of the Mundorfs' home
    That is when the moment happened. Standing on the road in 42 degree weather with 40 mph winds swirling around and feeding the fire. Everything we had ever owned, everything we had worked for, animals we had loved, gone. That is when I realized how incredibly quickly life can change. How we could have all perished if Brandon hadn't looked out the window. How we could have lost our children, our family, our lives in a single moment.
    While the fire was still raging, a schoolteacher who lived down the road took the hysterical children to her house. One of our old neighbors from the next town over saw the fire and stopped. When they saw we had no shoes, they drove to Walmart and bought us some. The Red Cross showed up and gave us a Visa card for $2,000 and put us in a nearby hotel.
    We had no renter's insurance. Someone randomly walked up to my husband and gave him $500. The quilt society made us all quilts. Bags and bags of clothing piled up outside our motel room. I lost my wedding ring in the fire, and an anonymous person bought me one and put it in our mailbox. It was amazing.
    The loss and the all encompassing kindness changed me. It changed my view of the world, changed my view of having "things," changed my view on life.
    So now we celebrate. We live each day realizing that at any moment life could change and it is not going to matter what year the car is, how old the TV is, how much stuff fills the house. The only thing we will always have are memories and we never miss the chance to make them. We create fun times, moments that will stick firmly in our minds:
    The author and her oldest daughter, Heather, at this year's Halloween party
    That 12th birthday party where my daughter and 14 friends piled in the hot tub. The marvelous dinner we had with two couch surfers from Austria. Simply watching Sara dance around on the hardwood floor, Emily laughing a great belly laugh, Kyle playing with his nephews.
    We now hold a party for every birthday and holiday. We go to more concerts, more amusement parks, and more simple outings like a walk on the canal. We've renewed old friendships and welcomed strangers into our lives. I quit my stressful cubicle job and stay home watching my grandchildren. We love more, live more and worry less.
      This Christmas we will be having another party. We are hosting the annual Mundorf family Christmas gathering at our house for the first time. A few years down the road we probably won't remember who got what, but we will remember being together, and I can't wait.
      We are filling our lives with amazing moments before the next terrible "moment" arrives. We do it because we know that moment will come again. Not the same disaster, but a life altering painful moment that hurts to the core of our beings. We create so many good moments that hopefully they will ease the pain of the bad moments, and we remember the good times.