lizardek's obiter dictum lizardek Home Now Then Friends Info Ek Family
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IN OUR EMBERS IS SOMETHING THAT DOTH LIVE
A child's toothbrush, a pair of sunglasses snatched off the hall table, and the pajamas they were wearing. That's what our neighbors saved from their burning house.

I think of all their history, their shared memories, the scrapbooks, the photo albums, their daughter's crayoned scribbles melted to the charred husk of the refrigerator.

It's all just stuff, isn't it? But it's YOUR stuff. If it went up in flame and ashes, do you think you would feel freed? That you were winnowed and lightweight and had a free hand to start over; a clean slate? Or would you perpetually be mourning your past, your lost life, the sooty residue that smears and crumbles under your searching hand?

They built the house before they had a child, before she was even conceived, and 2 years later were already lamenting that it was really a bit too small. They were thinking, maybe they could raise the roof, add a story beneath the eaves, a playroom perhaps...a bedroom or two. Instead the roof crashed in, crackling with flame and now, someday after the blackened timbers are removed and the lot is swept clean, they can build again, a bigger house; a better one.*

We built our house at the same time, a bit later perhaps, but within the same rough time frame. We built our house precisely BECAUSE our last house was really just a bit too small. We wanted a playroom, another bedroom, a bigger yard.

You look around at these solid walls, the vents that let in air, the windows that let in light and you wonder what would you snatch up and cradle to your chest as you hurried and herded your children out the door? A pair of sunglasses, a teddy bear. There isn't time to think or rationalize. There isn't time to SAVE. There isn't TIME.

Martin and I walked past the house today, but we didn't stop to gape. It feels as if we would be gaping at the ruin of someone's life. The urge to slow and stare is nearly overwhelming, and it seems as if the reason is because of the awfulness of sympathy and horror that rises up like bile in the back of your throat. When you stare at a burnt-out house, or a car wreck as you inch past on the highway, you are not just gaping at the ruin of someone else's life. You are gaping at yours. What if that was ME? What if that was US? Was OURS? What if time had stopped and the roof had caved in? Would the ruin of our life look like this? How would we go on? How could we ever get up off our knees?

I think about my books, my artwork, the baby keepsakes carefully packed away in my children's closets, the careful accumulation of years. I think about the things I've saved and the things I love rising ashes on the spiral airstair of flame. If we got out, amid the crackle and the terror, our children's hands clutched tight in ours, bare feet cool in the early morning lawn, if we only got OUT. Ultimately, no one gets out of life alive, but if we got out, this time, a neighbor's pounding fist on the door, breath caught and awful realization and then the spare horror and relief of safety, there would be all the time in the world.

***

*The family is living with friends in a nearby town. The house is already being dismantled, and a shiny rental car was parked next to the burnt-out shell of their former car today. The neighborhood is taking up a collection to give them a gift certificate for furniture and household items. They're out and they're alive and they'll rebuild, in time.

Check it out! Mosaic Minds: Anticipation issue is up! I'm pretty pleased with the masthead, if I do say so myself, and for this issue the muse struck and I pulled a poem out of my, erm, head, as well.
 contemplative
mood: contemplative
music: Lloyd Cole—A Long Way Down


Comments

These tragedies that strike nearby do cause us to stop and take stock, don't they?

I actually did find myself in such a crisis situation when Michele was a baby. We lived in San Diego and her father was on sea duty. She and I were taking a nap when I heard a helicopter right outside my front door. A megaphone announcement put everyone in the neighborhood into high gear: a fire in the canyon behind our house had broken out and we had no more than ten minutes to evacuate before the fires would be too close for our safety. In a panic, I called my best friend and let her guide me through it. "Grab a bag and stuff some clothes for you and Michele in it," she said. "Then pictures. You can replace everything else but you'll miss your photographs if they burn up."

Our house ended up surviving the worst of the canyon fire's consuming flames, but I'll never forget her advice. I think she was right.

Yikes, how scary! I can't believe you took the time to phone someone! But she did give you great advice. I think about all my big heavy photo albums, and know those would be toast. I'd only be able to grab some of the framed things, and even that isn't a given, depending on time. Our neighbors had no time to even think like that, they only had time to get out.

October 2019
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