Friday, November 22, 2013

We Didn't Start the Fire... -- by Josh

...it's that same old lady,
neighbors think she's crazy.
It's been a good month or more since we last had to deal with smoke pouring into our house (not counting tear gas and burning tires), and it's been real nice not having to worry about floating embers lighting our back room on fire.  But apparently the cease-fire has ended.
Just as the laundry finished its cycle this morning I noticed the cloud of wood smoke wafting into our house, just in time to make all of our freshly washed, soon to be hung clothes smell like we'd spent the week camping.  This time I didn't even bother to say anything though, because our last exchange over the wall left me feeling guilty.  Some time in September, after our downstairs neighbor, Carmen, had required a trip to the clinic for respiratory problems, Ramon and I decided to try to do something about the perpetual wood smoke drifting into our respective homes.  He and Carmen had yelled over the wall to knock it off, to no avail.  So, we headed around the block, in search of the culprits.  Naturally, although it could only have been one of three neighbors whose triangular lots abut or come near our wall, no one we spoke to was responsible for the daily fires.
"It's not me," they would swear, "but I think it may be So-and-So. Yeah, it's definitely them."  We investigated a bit more, then decided we'd narrowed it down to one particular culprit, and when we made further inquiry it turned out that it was the home of a local firefighter!
Ramon stormed down to the fire house, Max and I trying to keep up.  Ramon has a short temper and no patience for B.S., so he got right down to brass tacks.
"Who's in charge here?" he demanded.
After a few minutes of claims that essentially no one was in charge, we found someone who seemed to be in a position of power.  It seems that when people are paid little or nothing for their services, they're extra wary to accept responsibility. We laid out our case, that of concerned, suffocating citizens, the elderly and the young suffering pulmonary trauma day in and day out, by a firefighter no less.
"We'll look into it," they promised.
"No, I want you to send a truck right now," Ramon retorted, "and put out that damn fire. My wife is sick."
"Okay, we'll do our best," they lied, and we went on our way.
The fires, however, seemed to increase in frequency, and when I'd climb out onto our roof to yell at the lady who was responsible for them, I was ignored.  You see, she's conveniently placed her fire pit as far as possible from her back door, and consequently, as close as possible to three other residences.
I kept it up, yelling for her to put out the fire, or at least move it closer to her own house.
Finally, one morning I got a response. "Do you want the boy to starve?!?!? Is that what you want? The little boy to starve?" and on and on she went, for I understood but a tenth of her angry rant.  I waited for her to stop screaming and countered with my earlier suggestion to at least move it closer to her house, but she just belted out more heated words, so I left it alone.  Yet, a few days after that, they pretty much stopped.
I later heard more of the story fourth-hand, that her husband drinks all of the money that would otherwise be spent on natural gas, so she's regularly left to cook as if she were in the countryside.
Guilty.  How else could I feel?  And I'm left to wonder, if this is a barometer of their economic situation at any given time, about the very sad holiday season that she and her kids will have to endure again because of irresponsibility and addiction.
It seems like many people don't understand how many victims they create when they lead lives drowned in booze or drugs or whatever other addiction, and I could be pessimistic and powerless. I didn't start the metaphorical fire, after all. It ain't my fault.
But then I think of the virtues classes we teach.  I think of Rebecca teaching hopeless children that they really can read, and opening up a whole new vista for them, and sending an equally strong message of hope to their teachers.  I am an educator, a neighbor, someone with a Message that will heal the world, sooner rather than later if we as a people choose to take our medicine.  We just have to be sure that it's what the Physician ordered, not just more self-medication.

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