Hannah Thorlo’s home town of Portland, Maine burned to the ground twice in her lifetime. The first time occurred when she was one month old and the British Navy burned the town as punishment for their participation in the Revolutionary War. The second time happened 91 years later, during a celebration of the first Independence Day after the Civil War. Both times, Hannah was carried out of her house to safety. And both times her home town built itself back up — out of the ashes.
MAINE HISTORY - History of Falmouth and Portland, Maine from 1775 to 1866 - History of fire prevention in the Colonies and USA
MAINE GEOGRAPHY - Map of Falmouth and how the “neck” became Portland - Map of east coast shipping trade routes and railroads - Map of downtown Portland and the progress of the Great Fire
Study Topics for “From the Ashes” - How Hannah handles grief and loss - A study of resilience in early America - An appreciation for how difficult life was in the early days of the country
Topics for Reflection
From a Child Development Perspective:
In this story, your child might learn that:
The world is filled with heroes (Part 1). One definition of a hero is someone who performs truly selfless acts for the benefit of others. Hannah's father, Josiah, was one such person. In the Portland fire of 1775, "...once he knew his family was safe, he went back into the fire to look for more survivors — and he never returned."
We don’t run out of love. Love is one of those things that we do not run out of. The more we give, the more we have to give. Hannah was confused that her mother could love both her father and the man she remarried, Will Burgess. Her mother explained that she had love enough to go around and she was not choosing one man over the other. And later when Hannah's brother died, she grieved sorely, but then years later, her great-grandchild, Samuel, came into her life reminding her of Duncan with cool strong eyes and a serious look. Through Samuel, she found her way not only back to the special place only Duncan could fill in her heart, but also to a deep and lasting love with Samuel. And it was her special connection to Samuel that truly helped her through the ups and downs of normal New England life.
When we lose someone, we grieve. It is natural, healthy, and human to do so. But even in the midst of sadness, we might also discover a deep knowing that we can honor what we have lost by living life fully. This is what Hannah did to honor the life Josiah, her father, had lived.
The world is filled with heroes (Part 2). Another definition of a hero is someone who has the capacity for remarkable resilience and astonishing strength even when faced with tremendous hardship. It's difficult to know whether this resilience comes from inner courage or from the love of those around us (more likely a combination of the two). In putting one foot in front of the other and carrying on in the face of tragedy, Hannah became a hero.
When faced with enduring, exhaustive challenges, look for the moments when you can pause and catch your breath. Even someone running a marathon needs to have refreshment throughout the race. Although Hannah had to face and overcome many adversities, she was also very aware of the grace that was bestowed upon her in her life. There were, indeed, times of prosperity in Portland — she married, she had a family she loved, and of course, she lived a full and rich life.
Struggle can build endurance. When we go through hard times we build a muscle that gives us the confidence and assurance that we can face our challenges with strong hands, a cool head, and a steady heart. When Hannah's husband and her son lost their jobs, Hannah's reply was, "Our town has been through worse, and it will rise from the ashes again." And it did.
People gain wisdom through grief. Listen to people who have lived through challenging experiences. They often have the wisdom to help us in darker times of our own. Hannah had lived through so many challenges that when Samuel lost his favorite Uncle Nathan and when Portland burned yet a second time, she was able to offer Samuel the very wisdom that she had received from her own mother: “We will rise from the ashes, Samuel. We will mourn and grieve and then live life to its fullest."
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About the Authors
David Sewell McCann
David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through painting, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf elementary class teacher and parent, he has developed a four step method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website.
Meredith has been working with adults and children of all ages for the past 25 years as a Waldorf Teacher and Educational Consultant. She received a B.A. with a focus on child development and child psychology from the University of Michigan, in 1984, an M.A. Ed from Washington University in 1987, and her Waldorf Teaching Certificate from the Lehrerausbildung (Teacher Training) in Nurnberg, Germany in 1989. She was certified as a Living Inquiries Facilitator in 2014, and she completed her formal teaching certification with The Enneagram Institute in 2014. Her work in the classroom and with individuals and groups is designed to help people of all ages to drop self-limiting beliefs to live a more joyful and compassionate life.