From the Editor—Friday Reflections

A House Demolished

The Friday Reflection by James M. Kushiner

February 12th, 2021

Across the street, 3 pm, February 12, 2021


e live in a working-class neighborhood. Painters and construction workers live here. So, we're not high-end, but homeowners take decent care of their properties. As in the gardening that I enjoy, maintenance and patience is required for a house to stay in good repair.

But one house on our long block stood out as an eyesore, and it was right across the street from us, sadly framed by our front bay windows. I had hoped someone would improve it.

The house deteriorated; renters moved out and it stood vacant. Then it was for sale. Then it must have been repossessed by a bank. Someone bought it, and during this summer, fall and winter, we have witnessed its slow transformation into a lovely rehab. It surely was gutted. Drywall, lumber, insulation arrived. Flooring company trucks were there for days. Plumbers. Electricians.

While cutting the grass on Saturdays I would see the woman owner, who is Polish, and co-workers putting up siding. Slowly, one part of one wall at a time. A new front porch was built and a deck in the back. A porchlight, house numbers, doors, windows. Bushes were planted. It takes a lot of detail, patience, and hard work to make a simple comfortable home that isn't ugly.

Last month, the gas company had to come help repair a pipe that plumbers had broken while digging a trench in the street. We lost gas service for 5 hours on a winter's day. It all was fixed. Last week I saw a truck delivering a couch, but no moving van yet. Last night while shoveling a few more of the 27 inches of snow we've been blessed with over the last two weeks, I wondered if the woman would be moving in or was this a rehab investment that would go up for sale.

But something was wrong in the house across the street. No one knew it. We're not sure yet what it was. But at 3:30 am today my wife noticed emergency lights flashing outside. She feared the neighbor had had another heart attack. She exclaimed that the house across the street was on fire!

No sooner had I gone to the window than flames engulfed the two second-story front windows. There were fire trucks on the scene, but hoses had not yet been hooked up, which was a chore because of the deep snow and well-below-freezing temperatures. The neighbors next door to the fire were awakened and evacuated, just in case.

Many month's work, planning, and sweat and toil were going up in flames. By 4 am there were 6 fire trucks that I could see on our block. Multiple hoses, maybe fifty men in uniform. The fire wasn't out until 7 am. Twice, trucks returned to put on more water. The building hadn't burned to the ground, but surely inside it was a charred shell, flames having burned through portions of the back roof.

By 3 pm, 12 hours later, the labor of countless hours was in the process of being demolished, pulled down into a charred heap of ruins. As I write, the house is now down, crushed, and being scooped up into a massive dumpster truck. An eyesore.

Was it a faulty wiring job? Or a bad gas-line installation to the new gas fireplace? No one was in the house at the time. At some point, there was something not right, something that left unattended would lead to disaster, but no one knew it.

The woman arrived near dawn and stood weeping, with her friends around her. She calmly walked and surveyed the ruins of her hard work. For her, it's a major physical loss and trauma to a personal investment that I can only imagine. For the neighbors, the fire will be unforgettable, but not nearly as searing. For the firemen, another job, a routine duty rife with its own dangers. For me, I can only empathize and be reminded of the quickness of destruction and the fragility of our lives and plans.

It reminds me, again, that human structures require planning, perseverance, time, attentive labor and sacrifice to build. This goes for gardens, homes, schools, governments, and societies each in its unique way. It takes time to build something, but destruction comes suddenly when warning signs are unheard, unseen, or unheeded.

Watch for whatever is amiss, out of joint, and attend to it; if needed, sound the alarm lest destruction descend.

Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,

James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James

—James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.