At the house yesterday and today we got the “wet area flooring” meaning we now have plank vinyl in our bathrooms and the utility/mud room. Immediately following “the floor guy” was the “tile guy” patiently going through the multiple phases one has to go through in order to get tile in the wet areas. Last night the shower walls had waterproof backer board painted in a blood-colored substance and there were scraps of mangled vinyl planks lying around looking like exploded shrapnel.
We decided that my shower would look good accentuated by some antique reproduction tiles that I had procured for the power room in the replacement house we never built in Pocatello. I glad to have thought of a place for the tiles but weary even before we arrived at the warehouse to make one more deep-sea dive looking through the fire-related things of our life. We were looking for the antique reproduction tiles that I wanted in my bathroom and since the tile guy is here doing the showers it is now or never. It will have to be never. I never did find the four tiny boxes of 8×8 tiles.
I dug my way to the back of the stuffed 40 foot warehouse wondering how there were so many boxes left. Turns out that a lot of the boxes are empty or nearly empty but we could not hoist them over the pile.
Digging to the back effectively traps you, removing your freedom to get out. It is necessary fill up the walking path with boxes as you dig for the ones underneath.
Yesterday I got to the very bottom of the very last of the boxes, ones we had not yet opened. One of the boxes was marked “melted metal from fire” and the other “china from fire.” I opened the boxes not quite remembering what was in them only to be reminded that the melted metal was the sheets of silver from our grandfather’s coin collections things like like pots and pans. From the intensity of the fire they exploded into shrapnel. People were bringing us the sheets from all over the neighborhood. It gave us a sense of the power of the fire when it ate our house. I also found the family flatware. That was one big ball of melted knives and forks and spoons. In the china from fire box I found some tea cups we had treasured that were not shattered into little pieces even though they were barely recognizable.
I remembered a time when we were deployed to work with the Palestinian Red Crescent. In some parts of the world the organization we in the Western World is know as the Red Cross is called the Red Crescent.
When we arrived at the site we saw trucks and car marked with large white banners that had the universal medical sign of the a red cross on them. The pile of vehicles to the left were crumpled here and there, mostly on the front snouts of ambulance trucks. We were told to keep our heads down, our eyes on the sidewalk and to enter the building as quickly as possible. At the entry door were two glass cases full of shrapnel that included exploded metal and burned household items left from the shots taken at the vehicles. The building we entered served as the rescue station but also the community primary care facility. Nonetheless there were ground-based machine gun stations permanently installed and staffed on the various hills around the station.
We were told that the reason for the guns was the suspicion that the Red Crescent office was the recipient of illicit supplies brought from outside sympathetic aid groups. We were told that U.N. Peacekeepers did bring medical supplies but those were within the allowable rules of Peacekeeping. We did our work there but for their protection I was careful not to leave anything with them or leave with anything they gave us.
As we were leaving some of the women brought me a beautiful hijab cross stitched in their traditional patterns. I deeply valued their culturally sensitive gift but also had concerns about having it with me since it was immediately recognizable as Palestinian. We were operating under strict rules, of which we approved, not to take sides.
In the end I all but smuggled the hijab out of the country buried in the middle of a bunch of papers I had. I head my breath as my suitcase was searched. I did not want to lose my scarf. It was an important gift. I wore it a few times in the U.S it was still recognizable to immigrants and supporters of the Palestinian cause but as a medical person I still wanted to be supportive of any war victims but not of any specific war cause.
When I was going through my boxes that contained along with the fire-made shrapnel I found my only two scarves, one that I had managed to leave in the van and one that I had given my sister and that she had returned I thought of that burned hijab. As I dug through the burned mass of the silverware I thought of the metal shrapnel taken from the burning masses of the destroyed medical vehicles. I thought of how unfair the world could be.
In my contemplation of how difficult it could be to live in this world we have, I thought about the meaning of loss. Trapped behind a huge pile of boxes I thought about the meaning of loss of freedom. I thought about how the fire had taken many of our freedoms away.
I did not make a comparison to living in a war zone, that would have been impossible and not even useful. I did think about how the forms and shapes of even the simple thing in our lives are detrimentally transmuted when they meet with violence.