The Beast

huge machine sitting next to a houseThe “beast” sat in the driveway where normally a Ford would be parked. It towered above the modest house. A giant monster ready to devour all in its path, it was a machine of destruction with a name that is not part of my vocabulary. On a quiet street in a quiet neighborhood, much like the ones many of grew up in, this giant with its claw-like arm and metal treads stood half again as tall as the simple two-story bungalow it sat next to. It menaced the tranquility of the fall morning.

By evening it had consumed its “prey”. The house had vanished. Not a trace remained. The “beast” sat folded down, inert as if sated by the feast of the day. The houses on either side looked vulnerable, their sides now open, exposing the shabby shingles on the on-story to the north and the sagging lean-to addition at the back of the two-story to the south. With their weaknesses now exposed, would they too be sacrificed to this behemoth?

Some years ago, with my mother, I visited the city where she grew up and I was born. We went to find the house she had lived in as a girl–a large house where her widowed mother and grandmother had taken in boarders to keep the family afloat. The address was one that now was buried deep in the heart of the city, not on is outskirts as it had once been. We turned down the street the house had been on. Mother could not find many landmarks. And, of course, the house was gone.

I have turned down familiar roads and found buildings that were there the day before missing–wiped out in a single day. Sometimes whole blocks have disappeared–shabby strip malls or even once-classy shopping centers reduced to rubble.

The world has a system of renewing itself. For eons there have been fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, tides, seasons; births, deaths, mutations that have worked to both renew and, at the same time, preserve the earth. We have come to recognize these as part of our history. But we have the power to control our own history too. The question is what should we keep from the past and what can we do without. How do we make these decisions, and who should be the ones to decide?

I will miss the small house that is gone, but not too much and not for very long. It will soon recede and vanish from my memory. I did not grow up there. I think there was a giant eucalyptus once not far from the house? I’m not sure. I hope not too many things go–at least not all at once.


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