In contemplating this fire, which occurred in 1987, I find myself going back to a post this week on Icelines, a blog by the New Zealand poet/artist Claire Beynon, where she excerpts a David Whyte piece from Huffington Post (full text here):
It might be liberating to think of human life as informed by losses and disappearances as much as by gifted appearances, allowing a more present participation and witness to the difficulty of living. What is real can never be fully taken away; its essence always remains. It might set us a little freer to believe that there is no path in life - in the low valley, in the shelter of Keane's comfortable bar, snug by a turf fire or abroad in the mountain night, that does not lead to some form of heartbreak when the outer narrative disappears and then reappears in a different form. If we are sincere, every good marriage or relationship will break our hearts in order to enlarge our understanding of our self and that strange other with whom we have promised ourselves to the future. Being a good parent will necessarily break our hearts as we watch a child grow and eventually choose their own way, even through many of the same heartbreaks we have traversed. Following a vocation or an art form through decades of practice and understanding will break the idealistic heart that began the journey and replace it, if we sidestep the temptations of bitterness and self-pity, with something more malleable, compassionate and generous than the metaphysical organ with which we began the journey. We learn, grow and become compassionate and generous as much through exile as homecoming; as much through loss as gain, as much through giving things away as in receiving what we believe to be our due.This notion of what is gained from loss resonates deeply with me, now. Twenty-four years ago I lacked the perspective to see this, just as my son -- plucked from the jaws of fire as an infant -- attempts, at nearly twenty-five, to grasp the straws of his own deeply-felt losses. Because of this event, my family ended up living on Brandon Street, where a community of compassionate and generous souls welcomed my shell-shocked family, and where, over the course of the following twenty years, informed & reformed my notions of family and community. The fire was, in essence, a stroke of good luck. My children grew up loved and treasured not just by their birth family, but by a larger family of musicians, gardeners, artists -- one that was culturally and ethnically diverse, multi-generational, blue-collar to highly-educated. I hate to believe that I literally had to walk through fire to arrive there, but nonetheless I did. And survived, with incalculable rewards.
When I look back on the riches and blessings I was so fortunate to count as mine because I called Brandon Street my home, I doubt I would choose any other life.
I shall light a candle tonight when the light wanes from this winter sky, a tiny contained fire, and drink a toast to this sliver of wisdom I can claim as mine, "informed by losses and disappearances as much as by gifted appearances."
(With thanks to David Whyte and the "gifted appearance" of my friend Claire Beynon.)