Monthly Archives: June 2009

Providence and Acts of Grace

It may seem trite, but his week has truly been an exercise in living in grace and appreciating blessings.

This fire was massive. It burned for hours before it was discovered, and by then, it was in the small hours of the morning, when we were all deeply asleep. More than a third of the row of units were gutted, the roof over them entirely consumed. Despite that, no one was hurt. Even all the pets in the row escaped.

Somehow, with all the destruction, even in the very next unit, our contents are largely unharmed. We will be able to retrieve essentially everything.

As I wrote yesterday, we’ve learned that only licensed contractors can retrieve the contents of the house. What I learned only two weeks ago is that my cousin Greg has recently gotten a job working for just such a company. You can call it a coincidence. I call it a blessing. I call it an act of grace. Even though we can not be in there, insuring everything is packed up, that everything we want to save is retrieved, he will be there, looking out for us.

I have a childhood toy, my “lovey” if you will. His name is Bunny. He is, at this point, little more than a rag. To anyone else, he would look like nothing special or important, or even worth keeping. It would be difficult to describe him to be certain that he was found and packed up with the rest of our possessions. But I know that Greg will remember Bunny; he had a bunny just like it. I know that I can tell Greg that Bunny is in there, somewhere in our bedroom, and that he will find Bunny, and bring him out to me. It’s just a small childhood toy, but I slept with that rabbit every night until past adolescence, and I don’t like the idea of simply abandoning him.

Bad things happen. But my cousin got this job at this time with this company.

I call that Grace.

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Condemned

We woke up at a normal hour this morning and had some breakfast in our suite. My sister-in-law brought us some groceries last night, so I was able to have a bowl of yogurt and some grapes from the fruit basket The Man’s office had sent over yesterday afternoon. The Man took Wembley out for a walk, and came back about ten minutes later, rushing into the room. He told me he had run into one of the other residents from our building in the hallway, and that there was some news on the building. He recommended we get to the house, so I strapped on Peanut, and we walked over to the site with Wembley.

The official word is in: the city has condemned the building. Because it is condemned, we cannot enter the house. Contractors will be hired to retrieve as much as is salvageable, which in our case should be just about everything.

I will never set foot in our home again.

::

It is certainly true, and important to remember, that there were no fatalities, and that is a very fortunate thing. To call it miraculous would not be an exaggeration, considering the nature of the fire. What I keep hearing and reading is that “no lives were lost”. I’m not sure that’s an accurate assessment, though. It isn’t just about our possessions, even. We lived in that home. It was our home.

We loved living there. Peanut spent her first summer, just a year ago, gazing out that living room window at the trees outside. She had just learned to crawl up our stairs. She had only just discovered, only just last week, how fun it could be to pull herself up at our nearly-floor-length bedroom window to look out, slapping her hands against the glass, and giving it kisses.

The life we built was in that home. We’ll build another one, and the construction of that life has already begun, but the one we had is lost. We feel rather lost. As much as I am comforted to know that we’ll more likely than not end up with most of our sentimental possessions, and not having to replace everything, I still just want to go home.

And I can’t.

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Fire, or, Homeless

The Man and I awoke to the crackling sound of fire Monday morning.

I was awake, nursing Peanut, and heard a strange sound, like the tapping sound of rain falling on taut plastic. I lay in bed, nursing, and contemplated the sound, trying to sort out what it could be. I could see a bit of sky through the bottom of our bedroom window: the sky looked to be the dark blue of a clear nighttime sky of the first of summer, not the grey sky of a rainy day. The sound was also wrong: it was the rhythm of it. Rain has a certain rhythm, a certain musical quality – which is why I love it – and this sound lacked that. It was just ongoing and…impossible to place.

Peanut was nursing in her sleep, and I was reticent to wake her in the middle of the night just so I could know what the sound was, so I lay still in the bed, wondering. But every fibre in me urged me to go to the window and look out.

I felt The Man stir beside me, and turned my head to see him wake and roll half-way over, looking toward the window quizzically.

“I don’t know what that sound is,” I whispered, not wanting to wake Peanut. “Can you go see what it is?”

He would have gotten up and gone to the window even had I not spoken. He walked gingerly to the window, peeked out the blinds, screamed, and ran out of the room. He yelled “Fire!” back at me, as he was half way down the stairs.

I leapt out of bed, waking Peanut, who started to cry, but settled as soon as I picked her up. “Do I need to get out of the house?” I called to him, just as I got to the window and saw the bright red and yellow of flames reflecting off the building which backs onto our bedroom.

“Yes!!”

I ran to the closet and tried to find a sweater, but the one I knew was there seemed to have disappeared. I recalled an ancient and enormous wool zippered cardi in a basket of blankets over near the bathroom. With Peanut in my arms, I ran, found it, and ran down the stairs to our first floor.

The Man had found his phone and dialed 911. He was saying to the dispatcher that there was a fire several doors down from our house. His was not the first call. He hung up. We could hear sirens, I think, though it may have been just screaming in my head. I was hyperventilating and shaking and repeatedly saying “Oh God; Ok; oh God; Ok.”

I had a pair of slip-on sneakers at the top of the stairs to the front door. I put them on, and handed Peanut to The Man. I grabbed my favourite babywearing wrap from the hooks, also at the top of the stairs, where we keep them, tied it around myself, and put Peanut inside. He had Wembley on her leash already.

I looked at The Man. It had been maybe 60 seconds since we’d gotten up. I asked him, “Is there a single thing in this house that we want?” because I couldn’t think of anything, anything at all. He didn’t answer, but ran to the bookcase, about 20 feet away, and grabbed the wedding album. He was right beside the coffee table, where our laptop sits. “Grab the laptop!” I told him, “It has all Peanut’s baby pictures on it.”

And we left.

Our neighbour was outside, looking…bereft, and clinging to her 10 month old daughter. We stood on the sidewalk, watching smoke pour out of the dormer window a few units down to the south from our townhouse. Fire engines had arrived and were all over the street. Water was spraying through the air. We moved across the street and waited.

I watched flames escape the roof of a central unit. I watched the flames spread further south, along the roof, and the next unit to the south catch, and burn. Then I watched the wind turn. I watched the wind drive the flames north. I watched as smoke escaped the chimney, and then the dormer window to the loft of each unit, moving north. Moving toward our unit.

::

The townhouses are stacked; our upper unit, and the unit immediately below us are the only two without smoke or water damage. Firefighters had to run water lines through the units immediately next to us; they suffered both smoke and water damage.

condofire

The Man has been in twice to salvage belongings. On his first trip, he grabbed our kilts – my dancing kilt and his wedding kilt – my wedding gown, including the enormous crinoline, his guitar, some of Peanut’s clothes, and the dress form my mother had gifted me for my birthday. I received it on Saturday, two days before my birthday; two days before we woke to fire. An inauspicious beginning to my year, to be sure.

Our unit is untouched. No smoke or water damage. Our contents are unharmed. We are incredibly lucky. We will likely be able to save almost everything, though I’m worried about how things will fare given the refrigerator full of rotting food (including milk, breastmilk and eggs), the half-filled bag of dirty cloth diapers in the bathroom, and the rapidly increasing temperatures in the city.

We’re still waiting to hear what will happen with our home. We’re in a hotel at the moment, thanks to the Red Cross. We have a lot of friends in the city, and our families are all around the city as well. We have a lot of people taking care of us, as well as an outpouring of support and offers of clothes for all three of us from the women of the knittyboard.

We’ll be alright. For now, we’re homeless, but not hopeless.

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Management, or, Choosing your choice

I’ve been thinking about birth choices a lot lately. A good friend of mine – friends, in fact, as I first met the husband, goodness! fourteen years ago, while his wife and I met nearly ten years ago when we began undergrad together – is 30 weeks pregnant, having walked a long and hard road to get here. After two excruciating miscarriages, one of which was shockingly late, she and her husband want not only a healthy baby, but a healthy and natural birth experience.

I’ve been counselling her – over facebook, no less – as to ways she may accomplish this feat. Because a feat it is, when presented with a society that views birth as a medical event, and a medical system designed to take the mother and father out of the equation. What she would like is a homebirth, attended by a midwife and a doula. What she will have, as a result of her small-town location, will be a hospital birth, attended by an obstetrician she will likely not have met previously, and an army of nurses on rotating shifts.

She fears unnecessary interventions. Monitoring, pain “management”, epidurals, pitocin, episiotomy, Caesarean section. But it is not a fear of needles or a fear of incisions: it is a fear that she will be denied the opportunity to birth her child, to allow her body to the work for which it was designed and built, to inform her life, including her motherhood, with the profoundly affecting experience of birth. Moreover, she is afraid of being denied choice.

It can be argued that some choices are entirely personal, and others which could be considered far more public. Choices which affect the wellbeing of others are, in a very strong sense, public choices, though they are elementally personal. When we make our personal choices for our lives, we should, generally speaking, make our choices for ourselves, and usually not, I think it is fair to say, as a means of some sort of political activism. Activism is all well and good, and I’ve certainly done some (*ahem* check out my new banner) but when it comes down to making choices as to how to birth your child, in that regard, all bets are off. We need to make our choices personally, not publicly, if you understand me.

That said, I wonder how the choices made by other mothers in the days, weeks, months preceding my friend’s birth will affect her and her husband’s experience in that hospital. Will the willingness of other mothers to lay still, semi-reclined, for convenient – and largely unnecessary, though no nurse would ever admit to it – monitoring of the fetus increase the likelihood that my friend will be pressured to do the same? Will the success of nurses pressing the use of pain management and labour management drugs, such as pitocin, on other mothers serve to bolster those same nurses in their almost inevitable fight with my friends? Will enough mothers agree – willingly or not – to these interventions only to have labour “fail to progress” resulting in “necessary” c-sections contribute to the already existent cloud of doubt surrounding natural birth in a hospital environment?

What fights will my two dear friends be forced to fight, while at the same time labouring? How will the choices made by other mothers, by other fathers, affect the establishment or denial of my friends’ right to choose for themselves and for their child? I don’t believe, truly, that we should be considering others when making deeply personal choices, and goodness knows the choices made regarding pregnancy and birth are deeply personal, but I can’t help but wonder these things, and wish to heaven that there were some way to arrange to be in the maritimes when she goes into labour. Because I foresee a fight for them to experience birth the way they are meant to experience it, the way they have set out to experience it, and wish I could stand with them in their battle.

While these deeply personal decisions are just that – personal – I do wonder at what point we must admit that there may be larger societal implications because of them. And, if so, what personal changes must we endeavour to make, in an effort to positively affect the public good.

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