Lesson from a Burned House

About fourteen months ago, we were awakened by screaming fire trucks and police cars and when we looked out the window to the northeast, we could see a house burning the next block over. Of course our first concern was for the people who lived there. Our son told us they were okay, but that the house was ruined. A candle left burning someplace was the cause. The boarding up people came and boarded up the remnants, a couple of scorched walls, charred rafters, what you would expect after the things collected over a lifetime had been incinerated.We felt sorry for the occupants and wondered what would happen to the place as it was snowed and rained on. Once in a while, workers would show up to put plastic tarps over things. We assumed a bulldozer would show up some morning and take the rest of the place down.

That is not what happened, and this little house now presents a story that might be of great use as we move on into a coronavirus recession, perhaps depression, and our own eventual recovery. One morning about a month ago, after we had all stopped thinking of what was going to happen, workers showed up and started slicing away the burned parts of the building. What were they up to? We could not tell at first. What was left after the slicing were the skeletons of some walls that had not been burned inside, the foundation and a piece of wood that stretched along what would have been the sill of the house. It stuck out on the ends and did not look at all promising. Then trucks full of the sticks that make up the walls of a house showed up, along with people who knew how to use them. Diligently they put down a new plate, then framed out the walls with window holes, then began to work on the interior walls. Just the other morning my wife and I took the dog for a walk up the alley to see the progress. It’s not a new house yet, but it will be. It will have climbed, phoenix-like, from its own ashes. Someone loved it enough to see that it was rebuilt into a house. They put their money and their focus into that project and I suspect they will be moving in before the gardens start producing this summer.

I am a little like that house.

Our economy in the wake of this virus is a little like that house.

Life itself, with its fires and its collapses and it’s messes of our own and others making, is like that house.

I spent weeks in the hospital and in recovery at the end of the summer after a brain shunt for normal pressure hydrocephalus became infected and wrecked the left side of my brain for a quite a while. With the help of surgeons, therapists and, more importantly, my family, I am climbing back up out of that hole I found myself in. I am now pretty certain what the left side and the right side of my brain can accomplish. The important thing to know about that is that time is the most vital ingredient in the picture. I will never return to the person I was before I was cut up because of this infection. But I know that. I wasn’t perfect then and I am not perfect now. But the question for me is not who was I, but what will I become? This is the same as that burned house. It may not look at all like the house it replaced, but beneath its woody new parts and spanking finish reside the remains of a destroyed house. Ashes and rusty old nails and pieces of wiring and plumbing. It’ll all be down there.

You just can’t see it.

We are going through a difficult time now and it’s easy to focus on the wrong things as we wait to see what damage the corona virus will do to our culture and our economy. But what we need to keep in our heads and our hearts is that neither of those things is going away. They may be bumped up and dented, but we have had those kind of problems many times before. This is a culture that suffers its dents proudly and then comes back. The same thing will happen this time around. History has already proved that. Through famine and war and depression, the United States has found a way to rebuild itself. The same thing is going to happen here.

There are some things we need to keep in mind.

The first is that President Trump is not the cause of all of our problems. He’s not the solution, either. He is simply a troubled man who stumbled into the most important job on earth through a couple of election day coincidences we do not need to repeat. If you are of age and can get to the polls, you must vote this time. My choice will be Joe Biden. My mind is made up. It’s not because he is not Donald Trump. It’s because he has more experience at government than anyone on the horizon. He needs to glue himself to a strong woman veep candidate and off we will go. Then govern with goodness and kindness in mind so people can rebuild their sense of what government is, what it can and can’t do.

The president is obviously already campaigning from the White House press room, surrounded by followers and, on occasion, specialists to keep him vaguely on track. The question for you is are you going to let that work? Are you going to let him wear the mantle that carried Franklin Roosevelt through the Great Depression and the hours of World War II.

No, you are not. Donald Trump is so distant from Franklin Roosevelt there is no way to measure it. He is simply not in that class. He has go to, and we are the ones who can send him packing.

So do that.

As for our house, it’s still burning and it won’t be out until the virus is defeated. There has already been a high cost, and it will be taking lives and fortune before it is finished. We can’t let that embitter us. We can’t let that stop us. We can only be Americans and turn to that wonderful thought, e pluribus unum, “from many, one,” as our beacon, our safe harbor, our defining characteristic and build it again.

7 thoughts on “Lesson from a Burned House

  1. We have come through some really difficult times and we can come through this too. I’m sure we will see much good come from this, qualities in people we never saw before.

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  2. NPH. Whew. Glad you made it through the complication. Thank you for this essay. It captures the essence of what we are facing right now. Be well.

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