A house across the street from me was destroyed by fire this past Sunday. Gutted. Decimated. Destroyed. Only half the house remains standing, a charred, fragile shell against a backdrop of freezing rain and snow. I hear that a dried, neglected Christmas tree, turned on and accidentally left on by my neighbor, is the cause of this tragedy, though it hasn’t yet been confirmed. What can I say? What can anyone say? I have a bad feeling about this…
This is not the subject I had planned to write about this month, but an event like this sets the heart and mind churning. The woman who lived in the house is physically okay, thank the maker, but her beloved pets were killed and I hear that there is nothing salvageable. Heck, MY house and belongings smell like smoke and probably will for a while. Her stuff is just…gone.
I’ve talked to several neighbors since Sunday’s fire as we try to arrange the best support that we can. One thing keeps coming up, the source of the worst part of my bad feeling. None of us knows the woman whose house burned very well. Most of us don’t really know her at all. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for nearly eighteen years, which is bad enough. But there are a few folks who have been here over thirty years, and even they don’t know “Debbie” very well. How does this happen? How can one become so terribly isolated?
There are several Star Wars characters who might wonder the same about their own lives.
Our wily hermit, ol’ Ben Kenobi, seems more legend than actual person when we first hear stories of him on Tatooine in A New Hope. Uncle Owen certainly seems set against Luke having anything to do with him, and it’s clear from Luke’s dialogue that much of what is known about Ben Kenobi is speculation. I remember the first time I saw the hooded figure approach the prone Luke, remember thinking that “crazy old wizard” seemed apt. Flash forward (or backward) to Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan Kenobi hands baby Luke to Beru, rubs his beard and chin in customary fashion, and stares into Tatooine’s setting suns after Beru. He is alone, and as far as we know, he stays that way for the most part until he encounters Luke so many years later. What was Obi-Wan thinking all that time, I often wonder? What did he do? Surely he needed a hand once in a while? Surely he had to have some human interaction, go to the Cantina for a drink? Buy some blue milk at the 7-Eleven-Thirty-Eight? Shop for a new cloak or at least material to repair the old one? Did he feel the isolation of his situation, or more to the point, did anyone ever reach out to befriend him? Did anyone happen upon his cave and say, “Hello neighbor?”
Han gets several, “I have a bad feeling about this,” lines during the OT, most of them as smart alecky comments to assuage disturbing and dangerous situations…in the trash compactor on the Death Star and as he’s about to be roasted by Ewoks, for example. Han’s a suave, sexy, world-wise character and always seems to be in control, but was he lonely? Did he feel isolated? Did he fear bounty hunters and thugs at every port? Where did he sleep during his various smuggling journeys? Did anyone offer him a place to crash? Who helped Han when he needed it? Who felt comfortable enough?
Mostly, the events of Sunday afternoon here in my neighborhood make me think of Anakin. The tie to the immolation scene in Revenge of the Sith is inescapable, but not only for the fact that Anakin literally goes up in flames. That is chilling enough given what I witnessed. When I watch or picture critically injured Anakin barely managing to crawl along the banks of the lava river on Mustafar, the pit that develops in my stomach isn’t only about immolation; it’s about isolation. Obi-Wan leaves him alive and in agony, an atrocious act by a man who claims to love peace and balance. I get it. Obi-Wan “can’t” kill him. But leaving a man you’ve loved as brother and son and comrade to die in devastating pain from the wounds you inflicted is barbarous and inhumane. Tortuous murder. Of course Anakin is going to say, “I hate you.” What did we expect? “Hey, Obi-Wan. Would you mind leaving me alone for a sec? I’d like to deal with this excruciating pain in my own way, thanks.” Watching it a few times just now, tears in my eyes as always, I am once again aware that Anakin’s, “I hate you,” line comes before his damaged body catches fire. Once engulfed, he speaks no more, but it does appear that he reaches out to Obi-Wan. Who leaves. If Obi-Wan can’t kill Anakin, he has no business being there, but since he is there, should he try to save him? Subjects for another blog. But none of the Mustafarians who watched Anakin and Obi-Wan whiz by just moments earlier come to help. No one is there for Anakin in any way, shape, or form until Palpatine arrives with only his own evil desires in mind.
Anakin is completely alone. Isolated.
I have a terrible fear of fire, to the point that I prefer not to strike a match. What happened to Debbie’s house has kept me awake and that may continue for a while. But there is something that scares me almost as much: isolation so all-encompassing that no one would know a thing about me if I were desperately in need. That no one would be here for me if I needed it most. That’s not the case for Debbie! We’re trying to “be there.” My neighbors and I are brainstorming the best way to at least collect money to help her rebuild her life, but it makes me terribly sad, gives me a very bad feeling, to realize that I don’t know this woman who has lived just yards away from me for eighteen years. She has a specific set of circumstances that contributed to this, but don’t we all? Our lives are so hectic and crammed full of activities and events. We have problems in our lives that make us turn inward instead of outward, so much so that many of us don’t know those who live physically closest to us. Did Debbie have shelves of books that she never got to read? Does she have a green thumb and had a houseful of plants? Heck, is she a Star Wars fan and now laments the loss of an action figure she may never replace? Yes, these are just things, but they are things about her that I never took the time to know. I blame myself for not reaching out more and vow to do better.
I have had a few wonderful conversations since this happened, too, opportunities to reconnect a bit with friends and neighbors whose voices I haven’t even heard in far too long. I feel hopeful for what some of us are learning through this terrible event, and I have a good feeling about this.
Thank you for allowing me to share this upsetting event. I relate so much to Star Wars and use it often as the mirror through which I view my life. Do you do the same? Tell me…
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