To end, we must always begin.
Last night I watched a house burn. I’d never seen a house on fire before, and though it was a building emptied long ago of furniture and people and other things you find in a house, a gentle sadness carried itself on the black smoke as we watched the house being eaten away by flames.
There was worry. The fire, however it had started, was being fanned by perfect conditions in yesterdays heat and bluster. We feared it would jump to the houses next door – tinderboxes framed and held together by old, dry timber, but the four fire crews kept it contained and this morning, the house still stands like the Auguste-um in Rome – the place Octavian Augustus had built to house his remains – burned, pillaged and now a home for gypsies, today it stood in the street like a stubborn child.
A house fire is a highly sensory experience – taste, smell, sight, sound. The only omission – touch.
My friend and I had finished dinner on my balcony when my nose picked up the smell of burning plastic. I walked over to my Christmas tree to make sure it hadn’t started smouldering, then walked back outside to where my friend gasped, ‘oh my god,’ and raced to the other end of the balcony. This house we walk past so often was well alight. The most distressing element of the ‘experience’ was the sound. There is a cavernous silence, then the ‘pop pop pop’ of windows and the sense of curiosity about what else might be exploding and imploding. It is always what we cannot see that rakes our bones.
This building had once been a ‘seven pack’. Seven rooms and four enclosed garages – three of which the firies had ripped perfect triangles into, providing a ripe passage for the heat to escape.
I couldn’t put my finger on why so many questions remained about this one house fire. Perhaps it was because it was like watching another death. I have borne witness to many of those where the soul seems to be driven out after the last breath has been taken and expirated, but like Tibetan culture, I’ve always believed the soul stays for a little while as overseer, observer and protector of those who have been left behind.
The soul of the place was stripped by flames and drowned with water, leaving a husk of something once great to mourn over. The next morning as we trundled past, I thought that perhaps being ruined can be beautiful because you get to begin again and that if you look closely enough for it, there’s beauty in breakdown.