Eleven years ago we were getting ready to leave the house for the first seder at Jane’s house.
Russ was just finishing the mowing of the lawn, our table was set with china and crystal for the next evening at our house.
I heard a crackling sound coming from the kitchen.
I knew that I wasn’t cooking that evening…so as I entered the kitchen I saw about a foot of smoke undulating at the ceiling above the door to the garage. I went outside and found the wall between the house and the garage aflame.
Quick-thinker that I am, I threw my soda at the wall.
Then I thought – oh no, I should call the fire department.
Then I thought – oh no, if I call them unnecessarily then they will fine me $1000.
But then I thought….oh no, my house is burning, I had better call them.
I ran back into the house shouting – everybody out! The house is on fire!
Everyone ran out — even and especially the dog. (smart dog.)
I picked up the phone and dialed 911.
I told them “this is Leslie Coff at (this address) — my house is on fire and I am not kidding.”
I grabbed my phone, my car keys and ran out towards the fire because I thought to myself – if I am going to be without a house I’ll be damned if I’m not going to have a car. So, me and my high IQ ran into the fire to retrieve my car. Because that is what a super smart person does, right? They run towards a fire?
By the time I pulled the car down the driveway black smoke was coming through the second-floor windows. So there we were, on our lawn, thankfully all together, watching our house burn.
The first person I called was my mother in California. “Mom…the alarm company will try to reach you to tell you that the house is on fire and that we are not answering the phone. We are okay, don’t worry.”
Next, I called the homeowner’s insurance company to tell them the house was on fire. They did not believe me.
By now the firefighters had arrived. As they ran past us up the hill towards the garage I shouted – “don’t go up there! The car is gonna blow!!!”
Then, this tall, handsome, kind (yes, they really are that way) young man turned around and said to me….”Ma’am”, he said, “you watch too many movies – cars don’t blow up.”
And so, after awile the fire was out. We lost a fair percentage of the house and we would have to gut and rebuild.
We put the children in the car and went to dinner at Jane’s….two hours’ late.
We arrived…looking shellshocked and smelling of smoke.
And everything was ok. We were ok.
There were some nightmares later for us but nothing that a little alcohol didn’t eventually fix – for the parents.
And so…we were offered, in a strange way, an opportunity to begin again. With our house of course…but also as a family.
When we got to the place where we were to live for the next nineteen months, all three growing children piled into one small bedroom. The oldest was about to start high school but for all of them they found comfort in each other. They were like Wendy, John and Michael in Peter Pan…all in the nursery with Nana (our dog Lady) to guard them.
I even checked the window at night to see if Peter Pan would fly in…but truthfully, after the fire, Never Never Land was very far from them.
So one thing that happened after the fire…for a long time I had to let go of my love of barbecue food. Stupid, annoying PTSD.
Every time I tried to eat it, I began to cry.
There are, as you may know, certain specials of prairie grasses and coniferous trees which need fire to be able to release their seeds and regenerate. The awful spectre of forest fires is also a catalyst for new growth.
It is also true that roses need to be cut back so that they can grow more beautifully.
So…there is this concept of TsimTsum. TsimTsum tells a story that before G-d created the world, they noticed that they filled every single space in the universe. How could one create something new…like a world (!)…if they filled every space?
So…G-d realized that they therefore needed to contract into a smaller space. Deep inside…to make themselves smaller to make room for something new to be created. So that is what happened and that is how we have a world now.
Here is the rub: like the fire and the roses…there is a thing about making ourselves smaller so we can create something new…to make room for something in our lives, in our hearts and in our souls. Even as the summer moves into fall, the tree sap moves from the outer branches, contracting into the trunk and core…naturally withdrawing. Of course, in response to the contraction of the sap, the leaves are left without nutrition and they….fall. They wither and dry and the tree…the spectacular lesson of a tree…lets them go.
And they let go.
So it is within ourselves. As the summer moves into fall it is normal to contract a bit, to make ourselves smaller, to let go. Here, we have the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which remind us to re-evaluate whom we have been as people…and to discard that which is not necessary or which does not serve us…
We contract ourselves and we let go.
Our youngest has reminded me that every winter in its bare sparse exquisite landscape I forget about the exhuberance of spring. I just adjust, I suppose, to the barrenness.
I just – adjust.
I forget about the light and the breezes – how fragrant becomes the air and earth and how moving the sight of new green shoots popping through the black soil.
I forget how beautiful it is to see renewal – and to be renewed.
I am breathless every single year.
There is a saying: Spring Comes After Rain.
But you know…spring comes also – after fire.
And oh, the roses, the roses….the more you trim them the more beautiful they bloom.
As is in the seasons of the world it is in our hearts…to trim ourselves, to contract, to withdraw at certain times…to restore our energy, to make room for creation…we are in fact mirroring the most Divine.
We might perhaps, remind ourselves that while we are in a period in our life of trimming, burning…that new growth will follow. That all is not bad – it can be some good.
It can be a comfort.
A comfort that children will share a small room to be closer to each other….
A comfort that after a period of time seeds will be released and can regenerate.
A comfort that the sap will rise up again and nourish all around.
And oh, the roses…the roses!