Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Drop in the Bucket

     We were not in the habit of leaving our doors unlocked at night. We didn't live in that kind of neighborhood. But then someone let the cat out and forgot...

     When I was in high school I shared an upstairs bedroom with my older sister. Late one night after everyone had gone to bed, I awoke suddenly, sensing something was wrong. I heard shouting downstairs and scrambled out of bed three steps behind my sister. We tried to open the door at the bottom of the stairs, but someone on the other side slammed it shut against us. I smelled smoke. I was scared. One of my worst fears had materialized; our house was on fire! I didn't know what to do, so I did the first thing that came into my head: I ran back upstairs to the bathroom, emptied the trashcan onto the floor and began filling it with water.

     Everything else is a blur, but when the smoke had cleared—literally—I was standing in the diningroom in my pajamas hugging an empty trashcan as firemen sucked smoke from our house with their equipment. Somehow, the armchair in the corner of the livingroom nearest the front door had caught fire. Somehow, my dad had managed to drag the burning chair outside onto the lawn before the rest of the house caught fire. The carpet was ruined and there was smoke damage but that was all; except for a little singeing, not even my dad was hurt. There had been seven of us asleep in the house that night; it could have been so much worse.

     It wasn't the first fire in the neighborhood that year. Several garages had already burned to the ground and arson was suspected. Even so, I was called out of class one day at school for an interview with the fire marshal. He asked if one of my siblings or I might have been sneaking a cigarette and left it burning near the chair. Most of us had tried smoking at one time or another, but none of us was stupid enough to light up anywhere near home.

     A few weeks later the house across the street caught fire during the night. Investigators determined that the livingroom sofa was the source of the blaze, but the neighbors were smokers so it remained uncertain whether or not arson was involved. Then one morning as my dad was leaving for work, he found signs of a fire just inside our garage door. The door was closed and the fire had died out before it had done any real damage. It appeared to us that another arsonist plot had been providentially foiled.

     I am glad to say that the man responsible was eventually caught in the act of setting fire to a shed in broad daylight and was arrested.

     I think back to that small trashcan full of water, that drop in the bucket I had grabbed in order to help put out a fire; if our house had been ablaze it would have been useless no matter how good my intentions were. We are a family of gospel faith so, naturally, we give God the credit for our preservation. We are all grateful that He spared us. It is the kind of experience that has given me pause over the intervening years to consider the weight of my life. In the end, will I have spent it on things that matter? So it is that I pursue a grace-filled purpose in the hope that my drop in the bucket may one day become a flood.


  1. I love that you tell stories. That is how history is passed on. I love to hear the stories of you all when you were kids. I hadn't heard about the fire before. Keep on telling stories so that us in the next generation can pass them on to our kids.

  2. What is the matter with that guy who set fire in your neighborhood?! He must be really twisted. Anyway, the important thing is that no one got hurt and that the arsonist got caught immediately before he could find another chance to set a fire and actually harm somebody. Did you get to restore your house to its original state?

    Emely Carmichael