This is the view from the garden bed that ran along the western side of my house. You’re looking into the storage area that was under the stairs and opened into my garage, which was where the fire was set.
“Was set” denotes purpose. Most home fires are accidental, but ours was caused by arson. Someone randomly (he was a stranger and had no personal animus towards us) set our house on fire.
When something goes drastically awry in another person’s life, we feel for them. How horrible, we think. And we wonder: what happened? This is natural curiosity as well as the subtle desire to pull back from the possibility that this could happen to us. We look for the cause, in order to assure ourselves we are safe.
My rule of thumb for conversation with anyone who has experienced a trauma is to ask myself, “Would I say this to someone who has been repeatedly thwacked in the head with a shovel?” I find, more often than not, the answer is no.
- “Did they ever find out what caused it?” This is the natural question after a fire. Don’t ask it, especially if children, who ran from the burning home, are present. This seems obvious but you would be surprised.
- “You weren’t home.” This assumption was a favorite of strangers and quickly followed by:
- “But everyone’s OK, right?” I’m going to need you to define “OK”?
- “It’s just stuff.” Absolutely, and no actually, it’s a whole lot more.
- “At least you get a brand new house!”