A Blaze for Glazed Eyes

7 04 2010

It’s a memory burned into my mind.  I was a little kid, watching television with my older brother and sister, when I noticed that I was the only one laughing at the punchlines.  I could imagine that the humor may not have been their style, but it begs the question as to why they were even watching it if they were not being entertained by it.  I glanced back at them and did a double-take.  They stared at the television in a hypnotic state.  Their eyes were glazed over, and they did not respond when I tried to talk to them.  This was a very creepy moment in my life.  I don’t know what it is about television that shuts people’s minds off, but I’ve heard it said that brain activity is actually greater in people who stare at a blank wall.  I have no trouble believing that.  People who watch comedies rarely laugh.  Even the laugh track is fake.  What impact does this have on us?

Every now and then we hear about how someone was brutalized in public, and no one even called the police, or how a beaten individual was left lying in the street, only to have people veer around the victim without stopping to help.  Life is just one big television to us.  No response is required.  At least, that’s a habit that we have developed.

So much so, when it comes to helping others.  More dangerously so, when it comes to helping ourselves.  I remember the first time I saw smoke in the distance, rising in the east.  There was nothing between our home and that smoke but an endless expanse of dry brush.  I wondered what could possibly stop its advance.  We made no preparations for escape.  Had it reached us, we could have lost everything.  Fortunately, it never got close.  But, we did not learn, and we were not ready the next time, either.

My next memory of that ominous cloud was to the north.  We speculated that it was a controlled burn.  We thought nothing of it.  The cloud got a little bigger, at first, but looked like it might stop altogether.  Near midnight, my mother woke me from bed, panicked.  She was telling me that we needed to evacuate.  I got up and wandered to the living room, lit eerily by the light of a fire, creeping over the nearest hill line like a blanket of lava, creeping toward our home.  Nothing lay between us but the only road out of there.  What did we do about it?  We sat there and watched it, of course.  We watched it come down to the road and stop.  Then we got in the car and drove around the perimeter of the fire, watching its advance.  At the time, the blaze was considered huge.  A mile west, it crossed the road that served as our fire break and started toward us.  For some reason, it just stopped.  Maybe it was the work of the fire crew, though they were almost entirely tied up with protecting some mansions directly in the path of the blaze.  We did not evacuate.  We were not even packed.  We had no plan at all.

The next major fire struck after I was married and moved away.  It passed my parents’ home narrowly on the south, way down at the bottom of a valley, with nothing to guard them but a two-lane highway.  The fire crew were absent.  They only stopped to warn my parents that they would not be able to do anything about it if it should come up the hill.  This was the scariest fire by far.  If the tiniest spark had crossed that road, it would have raced up the steep hillside and devoured my parents home in a moment.  And they were entirely unprepared.

All it would take is one careless driver, flicking a cigarette out the window, and there would be nothing to stop the blaze.

They were the hobby ranchers.  When disaster struck, they were left to beg friends to cross fire lines with horse trailers to save their horses.  They were left to pace and wring their hands and scramble to load their chickens, pig, rabbits, goats, sheep, dogs, parakeets, etc. into one minivan, plus whatever they could borrow.  It must have been like loading Noah’s Ark without the benefit of God’s guidance, or, for that matter, an ark.  The fire roared toward them, and it raced by them, and they watched it pass while talking on the telephone.  Nothing was ready to be saved, not even the humans.  In that same fire event, a similar woman died while waiting for someone to help her rescue her horses.  That could have been my parents’ fate, but for the mercy of God.  For that matter, it could have been my fate at one time.

The next fire that visited them was the one that got them. For the first time in their lives, they were finally prepared…mostly.  Their fire insurance company dropped them like a viper, and the next insurance agency was diligent enough to make them clear a wide swath around their home.  My father complained at the huge loss of plant life on their property, that such a large clearing would be required.  For the first time, ever, they had enough clearing to save their home and their barn.  They purchased a horse trailer.  They loaded the animals at the first sign of trouble.  They sorted and packed their most precious memorabilia.  They were ready, for once.  The only thing they had not accounted for was the fact that one horse was not accustomed to being in a trailer.  They still had to recruit the help of friends to force the horse into the conveyance.

They survived.  They got out before the blaze ripped through their property, burning everything flat for miles in all directions.  The most important structures survived.  My father laughed when he saw it, remembering his chagrin at having to clear so much brush, before.  It was all cleared, now, for miles.

The next blaze….

The next blaze will be an even bigger blaze.  No fire line will stop it.  No water will quench it.  It will burn forever, and hardly anyone will be prepared for it.  The preparation is simple.  The safety is reachable.  Yet, I somehow think that we will still all find ourselves staring at the approaching disaster, like we stared at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, or the earthquake at Haiti, or the tsunami at Sri Lanka.  We watch the world go by like we watch television.  We have become accustomed to the idea that no response is required.  The next blaze comes for everyone, urban and rural, in all manner of terrain, in any season.  The next blaze is Hell, and it will catch, is catching, the entire world unprepared.  A physical fire can destroy an entire town, yet people do not think that the spiritual one is any threat to them.  At least, they do not think it a threat to them, in particular.  So scary is the fire that destroys the body, and so fictional seems the fire that destroys souls.  When it comes, there will be no time to prepare.

I know people who get an external hard drive with automatic backup, and they think themselves prepared.  I ask them if they know how to use it, and they say they use it regularly.  I tell them that it’s fine that they know how to use it when nothing is going wrong, but do they know how to use it when their computer crashes?  Then, when the computer actually crashes, they have no idea how to recover their data, even with it all stored right there on the backup drive.  The disk is boot-able, but they don’t know how to boot from it.  In the end, surprisingly, they seem to “lose” their data just as though they had not safeguarded it.

Get ready.  No, seriously, get ready.  The barn will burn and the animals will roast.  Are you going to be ready for that disaster?  Are you really going to be ready, or are you relying on a false sense of security?  Every land has its natural disasters.  Every person gets to stare into the pit of Hell.  So few are ever ready for it when it comes.

Life is a hobby ranch and we are the ranchers.  Life is a television and we are the viewers.  We do not take it seriously enough to be truly prepared.  We hardly take it seriously enough to be truly entertained.  God, help us, for we gaze upon the blaze with glazed eyes.

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