Friday, June 22, 2012

Guest Post: The Burned House

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2012 at 10:28 AM

Ami Brusca lives in Sunny Brae, where she is raising her 7-year-old son and trying to start a community supported herbal farm. She blogs at She writes:

The wailing I heard in the neighborhood on Sunday morning was the kind of cry that wrenches your gut and tells you in an instant that things are just not right.

I peeked through the mini blinds and saw her there, across the street, alone on the driveway, obviously upset. Since she was alone, I got up to investigate, but by the time I got to the front door, her brother was outside, motioning toward her, and I figured he'd got it covered.

Seconds passed, and now he was yelling too.

I looked out the front door to see that the entire right corner of the house across the street was engulfed in flames, and for several moments I forgot to breathe. I went ahead and did what everyone else was doing and called 911, but they already knew, and so we all just stood, sort of bewildered, in our pajamas, on the front lawn.

As I stood outside of my home, thankful that the wind was blowing away from us, so many thoughts passed through my mind. Musings about how the fire started, thankfulness that everyone was OK, feeling grateful it wasn't my own house, etc. Then fear crept in, and I realized that that house is exactly like mine. They are all the same in Sunny Brae. Would the house I live in go up that fast?

What ensued is what you can imagine, and have maybe already heard about -- the house burned down. As they boarded up the remnants of what was a family home, only hours before, the onlookers dissipated.

What happen afterward surprised me. Neighbors I'd never seen went out of their way to walk by. Cars came by and slowed or halted. Occasionally the onlookers would talk with each other. One day as I unloaded my groceries I saw a woman standing on the sidewalk in front of the charred house, sobbing ... alone. I thought for a moment to approach her, but recognized that this place had become a little bit of a sacred space. A modern day altar, standing to remind us of something. The preciousness or precariousness of life, perhaps. Who could guess why she was crying, exactly? That burned, ruined home -- the way it stands there now, naked and ready for anyone to view. It's a testament to how easy it is to lose everything.

Apparently, the community outpouring of support has been great. But as I was mowing the lawn the other day, several pieces of charred newspaper scattered on the grass, and I thought about the family I didn't know, who wouldn't be living there anymore. I realized how lonely we all are, when after living across the street for almost a year, I'd never even met them before. We both have kids, and yet they'd never played together. And what about all the other neighbors I've never met. Would it take their house burning down for me to give thought to them, to their lives? What about all the other people who were moved to donate time and goods to this family? We all rush to help one another in the face of trauma, yet rarely take the time to make the connections before the tragedies.

I can't get past my own disregard for my neighbors -- that is, until their house caught fire. I'm trying to learn from this fire. I want to be more connected and aware of my immediate community. I've realized that isolating myself in my own square footage actually serves to isolate us all -- and that it isn't right that I didn't know that family more.

No, it isn't right.


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Carrie Peyton Dahlberg

Carrie Peyton Dahlberg was editor of the North Coast Journal from June 2011 to November 2013.

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