Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Today I Am Like a Phoenix Rising

Early this morning, I was awakened by what sounded like a gunshot right outside my bedroom window. I sat bolt upright in bed, my heart pounding. It was about 2:30 a.m. Just moments before, I had been dimly aware of sirens bleating from various directions and now the roar of them became louder. Were they coming to whatever emergency this was? Had someone summoned the fire department? I got up and walked across the room to look out my window, which was pulled open to let in the cool night air. I saw across from me a narrow parking lot and another apartment building, from which quickly emerged a man and woman. They came out onto their front porch, looking to see, like me, what was the matter. Then they came down the stairs and started walking around the building. The woman got on her motorcycle and left; then came back a few minutes later to report to her husband, a big guy wearing a bold-lettered “SECURITY” t-shirt. By then, a third neighbor had joined them out-of-doors. He was bare-chested, wearing just some gym shorts, obviously hijacked out of sleep like I was, too, from the explosive sound.

I was racked with fear, having been startled awake so suddenly in the dark, and the sound of the explosion echoed in my ears like a menacing horror. I didn’t know what had caused it. Had someone shot a gun? Police often encircled the area neighborhood. I hoped it wasn't criminal activity. But what was it? 

All my senses were alert now. There was no going back to sleep. I pulled on some blue jean capris, feeling the urgency to prepare myself for flight or to protect myself. Grabbing my cherished rosary beads from the bedpost – the ones from Medjugorie that are such a comfort to me in times of distress - I walked around the house a bit, feeling unsettled. When I returned to the bedroom window, watching my three neighbors down below (and wishing to join them but too afraid to actually go down), I noticed, rising over the tops of the huge tree line just opposite, beyond the apartments, dense clouds of white smoke, larger than the heads of trees. I could not see the flames, but I watched with horror as the thick smoke puffed upward in billowy clouds, visible from the glow of street lights. I breathlessly prayed..."Our Father, who art in heaven...Hail Mary, full of grace...", beseeching divine protection for all with increasing fervor. All the while, an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help gazed calmly back at me from atop my dresser. I felt assured that Mother and Child were there, aware of the plight. 

Through my open window came the sound of glass smashing to pieces and a building falling apart. I never realized house fires would sound like that, but I kept hearing more glass breaking and smashing. 

In the next room over, my roommate was sound asleep, as it seemed the majority of my neighbors were also, oblivious to the danger in our own neighborhood – literally, in our own neck of the woods. It was almost 4:00 a.m. before my neighbors retired to their respective apartments, and I settled back in bed, still clinging to the rosary like to a mother’s hand.

As I began to drift asleep, it wasn't long before another sound pierced the silence and filled my ears - this time the cheerful chitter-chatter and chirping of birds. Before even the first rays of light had broken over the horizon, these little creatures of habit were anticipating a new day with innocent squeaks and chirps of glee, undaunted by the recent terror of the night. They let out their chant-like praise, thanking the Lord, in their birdish way, to be alive at the turn of a new day.

I felt more like a phoenix, slowly rising from the ashes, as I arose earlier than usual this weekday morning to attend Mass - the first time in a long time since I’ve gone to daily Mass. I drove by the burned house, which was located just one street down, its roof caved in and charred black. Perhaps, the fire burned away something in me during the night as well. I'd surrendered my walls to a force much greater. I'd been purified through tears, while the vice lurking to distract me from my God went up in the smoke.

A verse from today's Responsorial Psalm 17 struck my ears, "Though you test my heart, searching it in the night, though you try me with fire, you shall find no malice in me."

Later, I learned the gunshot sound I heard was an oxygen explosion that occurred during the fire. The female owner of the house was rescued and safe.