Tuesday, June 24, 2014
when grace smells like fire
Last night after two chapters of The Phantom Tollbooth, tickling backs, kissing faces, tucking blankets to chins, turning fans on and lights off, fishing pacifiers out from behind the crib, I sat down at the table. Maeve has burned with fevers since Saturday and wakes the moment tylenol wears off, skin hot to the touch. My nights have been interrupted and full of strange dreaming.
But last night, before the the wakeful sleep began, I got to sit alone at the computer and catch up on emails. I'd been sitting for 30 or 40 minutes when I suddenly smelled something I couldn't place -- sweet and smoky at once -- was something burning? a neighbor's outdoor fire? electrical wires in a wall? an oven? something grilled?
A few birthdays ago, Ben gave me a kettle I love. It's unlike any kettle I've seen, made maybe in the 60's, sleek lines, a wooden handle, a round enough body to welcome. I use it every day. The problem, though, is that it makes no sound. Countless times, I've wanted to kiss our obnoxiously loud over-sensitive smoke alarm that's screamed into the house-noise when I've left the kettle on, boiling away until it's dry. The wooden handle has a distinct scent when it gets too hot and has come dangerously close to burning before, the wood now darkened at it's lowest point. I've had a couple of scares -- of holy sh-*#! I could burn this place down, and once was so scared I vowed never to use it again.
But I did use it again (and again and again and again and again--).
Last night, as soon as I realized I smelled the kettle and slowly remembered turning it on so long ago to make a cup of tea, I knew terror. I walked to the kitchen like a slow robot picturing the flames from the burner and wondering what I'd do when I saw them, if I could put them out, how, the old fire extinguisher behind the kitchen door empty and useless left by old owners.
As I walked in, I almost didn't believe what I saw -- the kettle smoking and no fire. I felt sick. It had to have been close to flames. I carried it outside with potholders and left it on the slate, as if the pot needed punishing.
Then I just about fell on my face, pierced to the gut with gratitude and shame at my own insane thoughtlessness. What IF...., my three asleep upstairs.
When I woke up this morning, I could still smell it through the house -- the almost fire that had not charred us. The scent of not quite burned wood hanging in the hall. Grace is not just politeness, not just favor nor ease, it is undeserved assistance (I just looked it up in Merriam-Webster), or more specifically, "unmerited divine assistance given to humans." Was this ever grace, the smoke alarm down and the smell of fire, just in time.
**just bought fire extinguishers**