I can remember thinking: boring is good. 2013 almost delivered.
We were on our way to Quaker meeting on New Year's Eve for a 7 p.m. service when Partner got a cell phone call from one of our neighbors.
You might want to come home. Your next door neighbor's home is in flames. Don't know if your home is involved. The wind is blowing in your direction.We made a U-turn. I took the back way home since the other road already had traffic problems due to a doe that had just been hit. No need to sit in traffic as everyone slowed down to look at a dying deer.
As we drove closer to the house, two fire trucks carrying water were going toward our home. Rather than take the main entrance, we took the back road to (hopefully) bypass what we expected to be either a closed or busy road. As we drove on the highway near our home, we could see the orange glow and sparks. My stomach, which had been churning, now sank. A cold chill ran through my body.
As we drove towards our driveway, cars, trucks and fire equipment were lined up on both sides of the road. The orange glow shined above the woods near our home. Large sparks glittered in the night sky.
As we pulled up to the house, large pieces of ember and ash were falling from the sky. They came down in the yard and on the house. They seemed to go out pretty quickly. No fires were seen.
Partner noticed someone walking across our yard. What were they doing there? Maybe, they were serving as a guardian.
We went inside, changed our coats and shoes to something warmer and more durable. With no sign of fire on our house or yard, we walked the path between our two homes towards the activity.
We could hear the firemen and sirens. But the most amazing thing in the cold, dark winter night, was the embers falling from the sky into our woods and around us. The wind was up and sharing the fire with us. What a show! They looked liked big glowing orbs turning to white flakes. I'd never seen anything so enchanting and shocking.
As leisurely as they landed, they fizzled out.
We had a heavy rain just two days ago. The river was high, so we didn't take a much anticipated canoe ride that morning. This fire shed new light on what had seemed frustrating before. The precipitation had seemed unfriendly and a douser of good times. Now we were grateful for the sogginess of the woods, the house, of the ground, as it was beginning to freeze in the dark.
As we came out of the woods into the opening of our neighbor's buildings and yard, the realization that the house was almost gone hit us. Somehow, there wasn't much going on. The fire department had been trying to keep the fire from expanding, but was letting the house finish burning out. It wasn't much longer and the house was pretty much reduced to a few brick pillars.
The fire that had been blowing in our direction was calming down. In Partner's quiet observation, he noted that the fire department would likely need to come back to tamp down re-igniting fires over the next few days.
No one was hurt. The children had been at a grandparents' home for the New Year. The adults in the house got out just in time before the house imploded with fire. They left with the clothes on their backs and a purse. One of the dogs ran away frightened, but came back later that evening. Everyone accounted for. In less than an hour, our neighbors lost everything, except each other.
How does one bless the last year and look forward to the next in the midst of this? Relief. Life was spared. That pretty much sums it up.
Yesterday, an expected snow came early. As I looked out of the window, rather than feel excited by the beauty, I was initially struck by the large flakes looking like the ash that fell. I wanted to cry.
Later in the night as the winter storm switched from snowing to high winds, my mind would not turn off. Remembering Partner's words, I felt I needed to "sleep" in the back room to check on the woods, in case the now-empty property was on fire again.
At 5:30 a.m., Partner got up to turn off his alarm. I had recently dozed and had a nightmare where I awoke with a vocalization that feels more like a scream stuck in the throat. I seem to be underestimating the depth of the recent events.
We are okay. Nothing was even scorched that I know of. I reflected on the possible trauma my neighbors and others might experience given such a rapid and complete loss of belongings.
Pema Chodron talks about how our own troubles provide the ground for empathy when connecting with others. This little taste of a close call is so much closer to the bone than I originally thought. I can't think about it too much or I'll get lost in fear. How can I be available to those in much greater pain? fear?
On this fiery end of 2013 and wintery new beginning of 2014, may all beings (including you) be safe, happy, well, and at peace.
5/31/14: An update. Our neighbors have a rental for the year and are rebuilding while trying to work and raise their children. The community came together. Lots of love was expressed. It's been a tough and tender winter and spring. Life.