Monday, April 27, 2009

A Fall To Rise

I opened my eyes to the first blush of sunrise backlighting the tippy tops of the pines on the point. The lake water, tufted like a chenille bedspread, was brown-gray, the color of the rabbit my friend’s dog had chased in the woods behind Sandhill just a few days before. Outside the French doors that opened onto the lanai, Sunday morning was waking up too, stretching and sighing and blinking her eyes.

I had not been to the lake in a long time. I had never been in this house, built on the ashes and memories of the first one. Lying on my back, I stared out at the view, but saw only an endless film-strip reel of images of days and nights spent in this place – a circle of chairs around a chiminea and its corkscrew curl of smoke wending into the blue night, an old woman in a hat casting her fishing line toward the water like a spider’s spinneret, a boat bumping against the dock in stormy weather.

When my friends built the first house, I gave them an angel to watch over the place when they weren’t there. She was about 18 inches high and made of terra cotta. In her outstretched hands she held a book. We hung her on the second floor screened porch and, in a little indentation on the back, my friends left the extra key.

The fire that would eventually reduce the house to ashes left nothing – no dark skeletons of appliances, no loose coins, nothing charred but still recognizable. It was as though the entire structure has simply melted down like the Wicked Witch.

When the ground was cool enough to walk on, my friend shuffled through the ashes with a stick, stirring and poking, hoping to find something that could be saved. When the stick struck something solid, she barely dared to believe.

Reaching down into the soft blackness, covering her hands in the powdery soot, she pulled out the angel. One piece of her skirt had broken off but was lying in place. "I couldn’t believe it," she told me, her voice quavering, when I finally reached her on the phone. "Nothing else was saved. Nothing. She fell two stories and was lying there face up."

Life isn’t always easy. It gets busy and complicated despite good intentions. It takes its toll on our bodies and our dreams. It never ever turns out the way we imagine.

Because of that, it took me a long time to get to the new house, to open myself to the idea that different walls could hold the same hospitality, to believe that something equally good – maybe even better? – could rise from the ashes. It took a long time, but here I was watching the same sun rise in the same spot over the same trees.

Before I left to come home, there was one thing, my friend said, that had to be done. The angel, her skirt repaired with a double portion of hot-glue gun, had to be re-hung. We debated on placement, measured and drilled and gently hoisted her up onto the nail. Just right.

We backed away for a wider perspective. The book in the angel’s hands looked like an offering. "Here," she seemed to be saying. "Take what I give you." And I wondered what that might be.

"She needs a new name, I think," my friend said. "Don’t you agree?"

"Absolutely," I said and stared at her for a moment before turning to say, "Her new name is Phoenix."


At the very bottom, at the edge of Phoenix’s hem, there was missing a small triangular piece, so small that it had most likely been crushed by her fall. "I wish so much I’d been able to find that little piece," my friend sighed.

"I don’t," I told her. "None of us goes through a fire completely unchanged. That is a reminder."

It took me a long time to get to the new house and, like Phoenix, I am not unchanged. I am, I think, better. And for that I can thank the fire.

Copyright 2009

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