Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Broken Furnace Vs. Homelessness

Whine. Whine. Whine. My furnace went out this week. I woke up Monday, just as my husband’s car pulled away to take him to Southern California for five days, noticing the house was a bit chilly. And silent. The furnace wouldn’t come on.

No problem. I’d call our Heating and Air Conditioning service, and they’d have it fixed by lunchtime.

“I’m afraid this is going to be really expensive,” the repairman told me.

My roll-with-the-punches smile drooped. "Like how much?"

“Like, you might as well buy a new one, because I’ll charge you $1000.000 to fix this and it might break down again in February. It’s 15-years old. But if you want a new one, furnaces are on backorder. It might be a week.”
“A week!” The forecast predicted temps below zero for the next couple of days. So much for heat by lunchtime. “How do I keep my pipes from freezing?”
“Electric heaters.”
Fears of a house fire danced through my head. I told him to order the furnace after consulting with my hubby. The Heating service found a non-emergency customer willing to let me have their slot on Wednesday. I could manage without warmth for several days.
For three days, I moved space heaters from room to room, stoked the fire in living room, and slept with a pile of blankets over me. The bone cold air clung to my clothes even when I went into work for a few hours. I wondered how people lived this way centuries ago. Not only was my body cold, but the walls exuded cold. The dishes were freezing when I went to make a cup of coffee. The shower tiles were frozen even after a hot shower. The floors were unspeakably cold. 
I wore a down vest over my clothes with a scarf around my neck and my bathrobe topping off that lovely ensemble. To comfortably read in front of the fire, I wrapped blankets around all those layers and still felt chilled.
Forty-six degrees, the thermostat on the space heater read in the mornings.
In addition to the cold, I continued to worry about burning down the house. Did I know how to use the fire extinguisher? Would we die in our sleep? So much to lose if the space heater shorted. Those senior pictures of my sons framed and hanging on the walls. All their sweet notes written to me over 25-30 years. The oil painting of my father when he was a handsome teenager. His wallet and watch in my top dresser drawer – the only possessions I hold of his. A lifetime worth of letters and cards stashed in the trunk at the foot of my bed. Souvenirs from my lifetime.
And then I worried about the paperwork. A fire would destroy all the important papers on file, the list of passwords that keep us running efficiently, the computers with so much stored information and writing projects. Possessions and information and data complicated our lives. Their destruction would complicate it even more.
The birds of the air do it without sowing or reaping or gathering into barns. No accumulated belongings piling up, at risk of destruction by fire. They depend on their Creator who provides for all their needs.
By Wednesday afternoon, the house was warm again, despite 10 degree weather outside. I gladly wrote out a check, and invited my son to a celebratory dinner at a favorite Italian restaurant in the next town. I parked the warm and toasty car, grateful for a parking space close to the entrance, providing a quick run to get inside the warm building.
Then I noticed the bundle of possessions on the sidewalk outside an empty storefront. A roller suitcase. A pile of bags and some blankets. And then the blankets moved.
 “Is someone in there?” I asked Kenzie.
Someone was camped on that freezing cold cement for the night, backed up against the frozen storefront walls. We walked to the restaurant, and tears warmed my cold cheeks. We ordered our dinner, and I ordered an extra pizza to go.
 “With lots of meat. Meat might keep them warm.”
“Hope they’re not a vegetarian,” Kenzie said, as new customers walked to their seat carrying the freezing cold outdoor air thick on their clothing.
On our way to our warm car, which would take us to our warm house, I stopped and greeted the bundle of blankets, offering them a pizza. “And here’s some napkins on top,” I said.
Eyes peered at me through goggles worn for protection from the cold wind. And then the bundle spoke.
A woman.
She expressed exuberant thanksgiving, and we left for our car. I drove away, watching her bury her head in the pizza box, wondering about the birds of the air, sowing and reaping and eating.  



Laura MacKenzie said...

So powerful Linda

Linda MacKillop said...

Thank you, Laura.

Rosa Nelson said...

Wonderfully written, a real inspiration to all the bloggers out there including my self. My husband is a writer so I try to get him to read over my own work to give me some feedback but he is often too busy to do so. Loved reading your blog, keep up the great work and hope to see more soon.

Rosa Nelson @ HVAC Philadelphia

Linda MacKillop said...

How kind, Rosa! Thank you, and thank you for reading. Keep writing!