In the small town where I used to live, the fire department would occasionally burn down one of the houses for practice in fire-fighting. To be clear, these were not houses where anyone lived; they weren't good houses; they were houses that had not been inhabited for a number of years, and were falling down. There weren't a lot of them in my very small town, but there were just a few. There were a few falling-down houses with roofs or floors perhaps beyond repair. One was just down the street from me.
The town I lived in had a glorious past. Once upon a time there were four churches in town; there were two railroads bringing people to visit; there were the Norwegian farmers and the Bohemians, some of whom came to work on the railroad. I heard that the main street was filled with cars on Saturday nights, back in the day.
The Great Depression was the first blow to the town. The end of the railroad era was another blow. The rise of larger and larger farms perhaps plays a part. (Someone told me once that it takes a certain number of farmers to support a small town.) But the church across the street put in a lift while I was there, so that a teenager in a wheelchair could be a part of the fellowship events in the church basement.
One evening I returned from a dinner out with friends to find a message on my answering machine. It was one of the volunteer fire fighters, letting me know that they were burning down the house near mine. She thought I might be interested in the spectacle. (Yes, the head of the volunteer fire department that year was a woman.)
Shortly afterward, she and her children appeared at my door. I had missed the fire, but not quite all of it. There were still burning embers, and she wanted to know if I would like to roast marshmallows with her family.
We all found sticks and gathered at the foundation of the house. I knelt by the warmth of the embers, making s'mores while the house turned to ash.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
But who knows what new life will spring up after the ashes?
We don't have so much practice any more, in our urban lives, of throwing seeds away, into the ground, and believing that something will come forth and grow, and bear fruit. We don't have so much practice, looking death in the face, and trusting that life will somehow spring up, though we know not what it will look like, or be. We don't have so much practice roasting marshmallows in the embers of burning houses.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and hoping against hope, that the house burned down is not the last word.
Roasting marshmallows is not such a bad way to start.