Normally, what would catch my eye in this photo is the lovely example of a shade tree: a tree’s shadow standing on the end of an otherwise quiet home in the otherwise quiet neighborhood of Waban, Massachusetts. Instead, I notice the boarded-up windows and patched roof: all that remains of a three-alarm fire that gutted this otherwise ordinary home on New Year’s morning. What once was a quiet, orderly home is now an empty shell.
Reggie and I pass this house nearly every morning we’re in Newton, and J and I pass it whenever we walk to Starbucks, the Post Office, or the T. There’s something unsettling in seeing a house you pass on an almost daily basis suddenly lifeless and abandoned. The fire apparently started around 9:30am on New Year’s morning, and that’s exactly when Reggie and I typically set out for our morning walk: it was brutally cold on New Year’s Day, so Reggie and I took a shortened walk that didn’t take us down Woodward Street. But before we turned toward home, I heard the sound of sirens and saw a police car blocking the intersection of Woodward and Chestnut Streets: a clear sign that something was awry.
On Friday afternoon, the day after the New Year’s fire, a car crashed into the Waban Salon on Beacon Street, a stone’s throw from the now-gutted house on Woodward. The owner of the salon was sitting inside his shop, as hairdressers do, when a car pulling into an angled parking space smashed straight through the window, the driver’s foot having slipped from brake to gas pedal. It was brutally cold on New Year’s Day and icy underfoot the day after: in winter, shoes and brake pedals naturally get slippery. The salon owner, news reports say, was “shaken but not injured,” and who can blame him? Perhaps after years of listening to clients pour out their troubles over haircuts and root touch-ups, he’s grown accustomed to disorder?
Newton is a particularly quiet suburb of Boston, and Waban is a particularly quiet section of Newton, but accidents happen everywhere. We imagine our lives to be orderly: we take care to pay our mortgages, tend our trees, and keep our hair neatly trimmed and coiffed. But disorder threatens always, even at the turn of a New Year, when our resolute wills determine to keep our lives under control once and for all, this time. Left untended, order automatically slips into chaos…but even careful tending is itself no guarantee, the inexorable tug of entropy being far stronger than our best intentions.