Ruminations: I Have a Bad Feeling About This

Ruminations: I Have a Bad Feeling About This

***The lovely Jason Palmer Padme print in this picture of the wall next to my writing space was acquired at Celebration IV.

***The lovely Jason Palmer Padme print in this picture of the wall next to my writing space was acquired at Celebration IV.

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…

And remember…

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  1. Rob Wainfur
    January 13, 2015 at 08:14 Reply

    Hope she’s okay. I remember reading a quote once:
    “If you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.”
    I’m guessing, by the sound of things that she will have plenty of support from you and her neighbours when she returns which might just give her confidence in the world once more.

    Thank you for an interesting read.

  2. Ryder
    January 13, 2015 at 11:21 Reply

    Great job, Pam! This had my emotions ranging from sadness to laughing out loud (7-1138 anyone?). Hopefully everything goes well for her.

  3. Pam Bruchwalski
    January 13, 2015 at 12:57 Reply

    I hope she’s OK, too, Rob. Thank you. That quote is wonderful and sadly true. I know that I can be guilty of being a loner at times, but I will try to no longer be the disappointment.

    Thank you, Ryder. I’m so glad you appreciate my attempts at humor. I hesitated a bit to add some of that in there with such a tragic subject, so I’m happy to know it was well-received. Life is a mix of emotions, even on the darkest days.

  4. Dan Z & Cory Clubb
    January 13, 2015 at 13:52 Reply

    Really poignant and powerful; you gave me a lot to reflect on, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family. Thank goodness they have nieghbors like you to help with healing during this time.
    -Dan Z

  5. Christine Smith
    January 13, 2015 at 14:13 Reply

    Pam, I always enjoy reading these. The fire is very scary & sad too. I know exactly what you mean about not knowing people. I’ve had new neighbors move in over the years & have tried to make an effort to welcome them, bring over a baked good, invite them to cookouts. But I’ve had some older existing neighbors who I couldn’t make that connection with. I’ve had two older neighbors lose a spouse over the past years and I just wasn’t sure how to make the connection – beyond sending them a card. Some people do this to themselves though as you note. I like to think that if I am ever living by myself – with my kids and family and friends all living far from me, that I’d make an effort to stay involved with the neighbors/community.

    I hope things turn out okay for her and that she’s able to rebuild. Sounds like she has some pretty good neighbors even if they don’t know her that well.

  6. Pam Bruchwalski
    January 13, 2015 at 16:30 Reply

    Thank you, Dan. I am a VERY small part of any support effort. Fortunately I have connected with a young woman on Facebook who graduated high school with one of this woman’s sons, and this young woman has already set up an account to collect donations. She knows more about the family’s needs than I do, so I will try to help in any way I can.

    Chris, thank you SO much for replying here and enjoying my work. I completely understand everything you said and have encountered similar situations (though I am regrettably not as good about welcoming new neighbors). This can be a wonderful neighborhood, that’s for sure. It’s just that as our kids have all grown, we have fewer reasons to connect. No excuse, I know. I talked to one friend yesterday and we’ve been trying to think of ways to get everyone into each others’ lives again. Hopefully something will work!

  7. Becca Benjamin
    January 13, 2015 at 18:48 Reply

    OMGosh! How heartbreaking to read/hear, still, I’m thankful she wasn’t hurt. Community can be a wonderful gift and thankfully she has all of you! And yes, like you, I too mirror my life experiences with Star Wars. I’m sure you already knew that 😉
    lol! 7-1138 😉 I wonder if they sell any Colt 45’s?

  8. Jay
    January 13, 2015 at 19:04 Reply

    One of my favorite things about you, Pam, is how sincerely and deeply you feel. Feel happy. Feel sorrow. Feel pain. Your passion for everything around you has always been an inspiration to me.
    That being said, this entry made ME feel so deeply. For Debbie, her situation, you, your neighbors… for everyone who has ever felt or experienced isolation in any form.
    You have seamlessly tired your experience to the human essence of this in Star Wars. I often wondered about Obi-Wan in those years on Tatooine. This knight, who once fight for the freedoms of the galaxy, now isolated to a hovel in the desert. I often picture him meticulously hand-mending each and every rip and tear in his well-worn tunic, as if each stitch can somehow mend the atrocities he experienced – and caused – in his years as a Jedi.
    I could go on, but suffice it to say that this was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read.
    … and I also seriously LOL ‘ed at the blue milk 7-eleven-thirty-eight! Brilliant, my dear!
    Bravo with this entry on SO many levels!

  9. Erica
    January 14, 2015 at 11:25 Reply

    I have so much to say but of course no time! What a powerful entry.

    One thing I will mention is that it always strikes me in TPM when Obi-wan says “we could be stuck here a very long time. ” And then years later he willingly exiles himself to tattooine to watch over Luke. It’s amazing what people will do got each other!

    Good luck to Debbie!

  10. Erica Steinweg
    January 14, 2015 at 16:35 Reply

    There is a quote coming to mind. It’s from the Dalai Lama. He said something like this, “I have never been in a group of people and felt a stranger.” That’s probably not the exact words, but it’s close. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. When I feel separated from people, I’ve come to realize it’s because I’ve forgotten that whoever I’m interacting with, whether at a party, or a meeting, or as I wait for my kid at school, is a whole person. No matter the surface that is presented, no matter how polished, perfect, or different that person may seem to be from me, there is so much under the surface that connects us. We all suffer loss. We all long for love. When I remember that, I feel like less of a stranger–less separated from the world.

    I’m so glad your neighbor has you and a whole community to come together to help her!

  11. Pam Bruchwalski
    January 14, 2015 at 20:50 Reply

    Community IS a gift, Becca. I agree! And I do know that about you 🙂

    Thank you so much, Jay. Knowing me as well as you do, and I humbly appreciate your acceptance of my passions. I struggle with them at times and often wish to be more even keel. Be that as it may, I’m glad this piece touched you. I love your thoughts on Obi-Wan stitching his tunic as if to mend atrocities. Perfect. As for Debbie, the house continues to wither and sag in its ashen state. I can’t imagine that it will stand there long, but I so hope that the fledgling connections in this neighborhood will stand for a long, long time.

  12. Pam Bruchwalski
    January 14, 2015 at 21:00 Reply

    Erica…Although I can’t think of any more than the one you mentioned at the moment, I think there are a few times in the PT that Obi-Wan says things that foreshadow his time on Tatooine. I love that, love the connection. I whole-heartedly agree that we only see the surface of others, of strangers, of those in specific situations…for me, the moms at my daughter’s dance school, for example. I try to remember that people are icebergs, as cliche as that sounds. Or I’ll morph into Transformer mode and say that there is more than meets the eye. Always.

  13. Melinda
    January 16, 2015 at 05:19 Reply

    Pam, I know I’m late to the gathering, but please allow me to express my deep sympathy for your neighbor’s loss. Whether how well you know her or not really isn’t the important factor at this particular point in time. The fact that you are willing to do what you can speaks volumes. 🙂

    Also, please don’t be so hard on yourself. It is impossible to know everyone. Even the neighbors who live physically the closest to you. I suppose we all (or many of us) have the image of everyone knowing everyone in one’s neighborhood, but that really is unrealistic. We have lived in our house for 25 years, and I still don’t know the people who live ‘kiddy-corner’ from us! They’re never home — a bit of an exaggeration, I know, but I think I can count the number of times I’ve actually seen them outside of their house over the course of all these years on my two hands (one rotation), and those times were when they were driving off somewhere or plowing snow from their driveway. About that I am not exaggerating. A lot has to do with timing — people are busy, not always home at the same time, lives go in different directions. These aren’t excuses. They’re explanations.

    I love how you equated what happened in your neighborhood earlier this month to Star Wars. You are such a perceptive individual, and your writings never fail to make an impression on me. I do think you are being a bit harsh with regard to Obi-Wan’s treatment of Anakin at the end. But that’s just my opinion. Obi-Wan did warn Anakin not to make that fateful jump. Don’t forget — Anakin was bent on killing Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan was defending himself. Would it have been more humane to put Anakin out of his misery? Maybe. But then we wouldn’t have the OT. Don’t forget that. Sometimes we have to make allowances for the fact that the Star Wars Saga was filmed backwards. 😉

    I suppose we all feel isolated at one time or another during the course of our lives. Sometimes it takes events like this to remind us to reach out, and let others know — even in the smallest of ways — that there are folks who care, who are there for them. Sometimes all it takes is a gentle, sincere, “I care” to ease someone’s pain/suffering, to remind that individual that they are not alone. 🙂

    MTFBWY 🙂

    p.s. by the way, humor is therapeutic. 🙂 It doesn’t dissolve the gravity of a situation, but it is a reminder that there must be balance so one does not get consumed by the fires of tragedy.

  14. Pam Bruchwalski
    January 17, 2015 at 13:48 Reply

    Thank you so much for the kind words about my writing, Melinda. SO much appreciated.

    As for Obi-Wan’s leaving Anakin…that part has always bothered me. Yes. Anakin was intent on killing Obi-Wan, and there’s that high ground line, but seriously? Did Obi-Wan really feel threatened by the mortally injured Anakin? For someone who “couldn’t” kill his friend, was leaving him to suffer like that a better, more humane fate?

    Obviously it was a plot device given the chronology of the films!! I could never forget that!

    Thank you for your comment.

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Pam is a writer, editor, mother, fangirl, and self-proclaimed geek from Pittsburgh, PA.

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