Fire Too Close

The siren was close. The main road I live on, Berry, intersects with Meridian three hundred feet east of my drive. It’s not unusual to hear the siren of ambulances or police cars. Sitting at my desk I tried to determine the direction of the sound. It had stopped near my house.

Not good…not good at all. Which neighbor was in trouble? I immediately got up from writing and glanced out the upstairs windows. “Dear God!” I yelled as I saw smoke billow from Gary and Karen’s house two doors down. My heart and thoughts began to race.

Prayer comes first, always. I posted on line a plea; with speed-dial I called a friend to start a prayer chain…all this in less than two minutes. Glancing out the window again, the smoke had increased and turned an angry black. I rushed downstairs. The dog startled by my urgency ran behind me barking.

Grabbing my coat I bolted out the door in Muk Luk slippers, no gloves or scarf. “Dear God, dear God, dear God…” I kept repeating as I ran to my neighbors. Where was Karen? Gary? He would try to stop the fire…was he safe? Their dogs—two big boxers—had they been able to get them out? My breath caught, it was cold, bitterly cold at 5º.

As I came past the house I saw Gary standing in the drive. The second fire truck had just arrived. Firemen were donning equipment. The first responders who had already arrived had hosed the back of the house—the vinyl siding was melted away. The garage, his life, was burning.

“Gary—Gary are you alright?”

“Yeah…yeah…I was only gone a couple minutes…”

I put my hand on his back, the other on his arm—he had just dropped the cell phone.

“Gary—where is Karen?”

“She thinks it a joke…I called…she’s shopping…”

His face went from red to pale gray, then red again. I prayed he wouldn’t have a heart attack. I stepped back from him as his buddies showed up. I stepped back from the responders as the garage became fully involved. There was nothing I could do to help. I felt chilled…physically and in my heart. I headed back to my house as police and two more fire trucks arrived.

I watched from the upstairs window as canisters, gas tanks, and tires exploded. I prayed and cried for my friends.

Karen’s SUV pulled in our neighbor’s drive across the road.  Another small explosion and more flames—Karen ran from her car across the icy road. I prayed she wouldn’t fall.

The flames were so close, too close. Their house is a mere five feet from the garage. The black curling smoke carried flaming debris into the woodlot and towards neighboring homes.

When I saw Karen again, she was crossing the road with her dogs. I knew I could help. Back out the door in slippers and coat, I maneuvered past police cars, fire trucks, and their crowd of friends. As I got close to her, I saw she couldn’t control the two boxers and a friend was trying to help.  Veda and Jade are house pets and shivered from the brutal cold, and anxiousness of their owners. One over excited boxer is hard enough to manage, but two tethered on a single lead—and stressed—were overpowering.

Karen’s friend helped get the dogs to my house. I locked the cat in the basement, barricaded my dog, Lilly, upstairs, and unleashed the whining shivering pair. I knew my housemate would understand the invasion to her living space.

The only way to calm the dogs was to calm myself. As they paced from room to room, panting and drooling, I sat on the sofa and prayed for the safety of all involved. Eventually the two boxers calmed down and could be let out into the backyard to relieve themselves. I stepped out the back door and shuddered from the acrid smell of the fire. I listened to its crackling. Even from two doors down I could feel the unexpected heat in winter.

I saw their daughter park across the road and run to her parents. She had gone home to her place just days before. I can only imagine her trying to control fear and drive safely as she headed back to Pleasant Lake.

Hours later the fire was out. Gary’s “all” was gone.

I remembered one summer afternoon when I saw him in the back garage sitting on a stool. The golf cart was elevated in front of him. He held a pint-can of red paint. With a small brush he was touching up the undercarriage of the cart. He looked up at my greeting with the sweetest smile on his face—a happy contented man.

He and Karen took delight in his muscle car (lost to me is the model) and knew his neighbors would understand if he “burned rubber” once or twice a month.

The car, cart, jeep, truck, tractor, tools, landscaping equipment, patio furniture, and so much more were destroyed. He and Karen had taken a hard hit. What was left? Rubble and a few charred beams. The fire came a few weeks after another loss; all his tools at the property on Dixon Road had been stolen.

The Wrights are good people. They are honest, charitable, grateful and happy. What I don’t know about them is if they have Faith.

In the vulnerability of disaster, who can we turn to if not our God? How do we find the strength to not be bitter? To not lay blame? Is love reasonable in loss?

In the Wright family there was a closing of ranks. There were tears from the daughter who recognized her dad’s pain—for possibly causing the fire, and loosing his livelihood and his loves. Karen’s tears of loss were mixed with gratitude—her husband was unharmed physically, though the emotional challenges are yet to be faced. Both dogs were fine. And Gary’s tears were not meant for me to see. In it all, there was love for one another. And in that love there is God.

The next morning I brought them spiral bound notebooks to catalog their losses and offered help typing to compile the lists. Karen gave me a tearful hug. They know that I am Catholic and have prayed rosaries for them in the past. It was the first time Karen had asked me to pray…I began to tear up too.

The same love that expressed gratitude for no one being hurt would hold them together. They had faith and would persevere.


Lasers and Light

The furnace barely kept up. It ran almost constantly on Sunday as winter winds blew and made the awnings shudder and groan.

The kettle of chicken-vegetable soup simmered. Rice, carrots, and celery gently rolled to the top as I stood beside the stove and contemplatively watched the gentle bubbling. The steam incensed the kitchen—and all the house—with its aroma. 

I delight in making soups. All that was unfavorable and leftover can be brought together into a vital whole. For a single woman, a kettle of soup will nourish for weeks once frozen. More often than not, it is shared.

The happiness of cooking was short lived when exhaustion weighed in after I had prepped vegetables and pulled chicken from the bone. I sat hard on the sofa and leaned heavily into the pillows. The arthritic ache if my spine drained me physically and mentally. I’m not good at holding up well in adversity and whispered “Lord, have mercy.” 

A laser treatment on my spine a few days ago broke down restricting tissue to allow for more flexibility. The procedure was uncomfortable, but tolerated knowing better movement would result. The days that followed were filled with an unrelenting achiness, similar to overexerted muscles from gardening, but flexibility was definitely improved. 

It is the “daily” of it all that tries my patience. Things like having to make several trips up and down two flights of stairs because I can no longer carry a full basket of laundry. Then the feeling of guilt for lacking gratitude in that I have clothes enough for a full basket, laundry equipment to clean them, and legs strong enough to climb multiple flights of stairs. 

The same guilt rises when I grumble doing household chores in my tiny flat. There are only four warm and cheery rooms. Still I mutter under my breath about changing bedding, dusting furniture, and cleaning up pet hair. Sometimes I think God must see me as a fussy three year old needing a nap. 

I had been doing my best to adjust to a new normal. Grateful for the laser treatment and being a bit more limber, I offered up the discomfort as I worked my way through chores. But by Sunday I was spent.

There is a fine line between acceptance and resignation—or hopelessness—and I was about to cross it. That line is drawn with trust that God is near and in control, especially in the struggle.

On Monday morning I had an appointment and was slow to get out of bed. The delay meant there was not time enough to ease into my day with coffee and prayers. It was below zero that morning and the car engine was rough to start, and I thought “yeah, me too.” 

The heavy clouds and naked trees did nothing to improve my mood. Slumping towards the steering wheel, hands at 10 and 2, I looked and felt like I was 90 as I drove off into town. Leafless black-limbed trees whizzed past in a blur. 

Cresting a small hill I saw the fullness of a red and coral sunrise that had been hidden behind the woodlands. I saw in the distance a sunbeam on a small patch of dormant trees. Maybe only a dozen or so that was a vivid crimson in the band of light. 

The light on their dark limbs sparked in me a desiring. I hoped as I drove down the road that the light remained long enough that I would enter into its rays. There was a restlessness in me to move toward the Kindly Light, and I saw a need to maintain that restlessness when I felt distance from the comforting love of God.