Years ago, in the wee hours, an arsonist randomly set my house on fire. My husband and I, and our three children, escaped with the clothes on our backs. When the fire was extinguished, half the structure and its contents remained, but everything was destroyed. Who, when making a home, imagines it could ever be a ruins?
My family settled into a rental just down the road from our property, which was convenient, but it meant we drove by our burned-out house every day. It was like viewing a corpse, day after day, week after week, month after month, and it only increased our sorrow.
We had to wait for the building estimates to be made, the inventory created, and every requirement from the township met before they would issue a demolition permit. People complained. When was the eyesore going to be removed?
The day of demolition was bitterly cold, and a layer of snow covered everything. I was so eager to have it all gone and yet anxious to see it one last time. It was like a strange breakup that had dragged on far too long. The ruins had become a common sight, but I tried to pay special attention. I went to the front door and looked in. Yet again, I was struck, even more than by what was gone, by what remained. The door itself was destroyed, the knob twisted and partially melted. Two bookcases flanked the front door. Part of the roof of the entry had burned to nothing, but both bookcases were still standing. One was leaning forward, and I had the strong sense of two soldiers, bloodied but unbowed. The top shelf of the case on the east wall had held my set of Shakespeare. They slipped off when the bookcase pitched forward but had fallen together and formed a sort of stepping-stone.
How did the fire go through and over all those books and yet they didn’t burn? Every time I visited the house, I would peek in the front door and look at them—artifacts of a life long gone. As time passed, they weathered and aged, and more fell.
Waiting for the excavator to arrive, I walked around the house then I made my way to my perch on the hill, where I waited as one might to watch fireworks.
The demolition began at 10:33 in the morning with a gentle tap to our black Lab, Jack’s, doghouse, which caused it to crack and then fly apart like a house of cards.
I had never seen a building torn down and had imagined it would be loud and, well, destructive, but it was a surprisingly delicate operation. The scoop of the excavator gently knocked and nibbled its way through the structure. It was like a hand carefully plucking and rearranging, but instead of straightening or fixing, it was tearing apart.
It was strange seeing familiar things fly to the surface and land on the top of the pile: the antique metal box I used for storage on the bathroom counter, a vintage housecoat my girls wore for dress-up, Lydia, my older daughter’s lavender parka, the granite on my island, one of the living room chairs, a green cereal bowl.
It was a little like watching a slideshow at a funeral, where, for a moment, you forget the loss and simply remember.
It was finished fifty-seven minutes later, after a delicate pull at the southwest corner of the laundry room. The walls came down, and then they were pulled up and added to the top of the pile. The ivy that grew along the foundation was pulled up too and, still attached, trailed along.
The house had stood for more than fifty years, and we had lived in it six. It took less than an hour to demolish. Isn’t that the way of things? Destruction can be done so quickly; it is building or cleaning up that takes our energy and time.
When only the laundry room stood—even its roof was gone—I found myself sitting up and leaning forward, like at the end of a movie, but there wasn’t any suspense, just the sense of something long awaited finally coming to an end.
Taken from The Pug List by Alison Hodgson. Copyright © [2015 by Alison Hodgson.] Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.
Alison Hodgson is the author of The Pug List: A Ridiculous Dog, a Family Who Lost Everything, and How They All Found Their Way Home. She is a Moth StorySLAM winner and a regular contributor to the design website Houzz.com. Her writing has been featured in Woman’s Day magazine, on Forbes.com, Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog, and the Religion News Service, and her essays have been published in a variety of anthologies. Alison lives in Michigan with her husband, their children, and three good dogs.
Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because next year, I’m publishing a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, Spring 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.
The story of Jesus is a home story.
Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in the months ahead in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.