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Douglas, Alaska, United States
I have lived in Alaska since 1978, having come to Juneau as a Jesuit Volunteer. I fell in love with Alaska and now live on Douglas Island with my husband and two dogs.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fire




Yesterday, when Charles and I stopped at the store to pick up dinner supplies, we passed a young boy, about 11 or 12 years old, and his mom asking for donations for AquaLaps, the annual fundraiser for the Glacier Swim Club. Charles asked him what strokes he does and he replied that he does all of them. "Including butterfly?" Charles asked, and he replied "Yes, sir". Then he talked about how he loved to swim.  He was so polite and eager, and his mom was so obviously proud and supportive of him. As we left the store, I said: "Good luck!" and Charles said: "See you at the Olympics!"

When we drove over the bridge we pulled over as a Douglas Fire Department truck came speeding by at full speed, siren blaring and lights flashing.

When we got home, we found out that the playground at Twin Lakes was engulfed in flames, and when we woke up this morning we found out that two thirteen year old boys had been arrested for arson.

Who knows what the lives of those boys has been like? Has abuse and neglect played a part in this episode? Is bad parenting/modeling/lack of attention or support what made them act out and destroy a local treasure? Or were they just goofing around and made a big mistake? 

I have a friend who, as a boy, while playing along with his twin brother in his parents' barn that also housed his father's workshop, managed to burn the barn to the ground. He got in a lot of trouble, and probably was punished in some fashion.  Of course, the barn wasn't worth millions of dollars and it didn't break the town's heart when it was destroyed.  Coincidentally, this friend grew up to be a bishop.

I have read a lot of comments about the boys who started the Twin Lakes fire, calling for them to be hanged, demanding that their names be published, demanding that their parents be identified and forced to pay for the damage.

The boys are lodged at the local juvenile detention facility, where they will await trial. 

My hope for them is that they will be given the help they need to grow up to be good citizens, that their punishment will not make their lives worse, but better, that the anger and hurt our town is feeling will not fester and turn to hate and revenge and vigilante justice.

I pray for their families, for their parents and aunts and uncles and siblings and cousins, because this is a small town, and word will eventually get out, and when it does, hopefully they will not be shunned and despised but comforted and supported.

I pray for the grieving children of our town who just lost a beautiful place to play, especially with summer just around the corner.

I pray for all of us, all of us, who have experienced on a tiny scale what people in other countries experience every day: horror, fire, destruction, suspicion, fear, violence and hatred.

What is is that can make a boy like the young swimmer so obviously successful, and can make these other, slightly older boys arsonists? Is it the presence or absence of a supportive, proud parent? Was it a bid for attention, a cry for help or just a bonehead mistake that will change their lives forever?

I wish that we could have a do over. 

I wish. I hope. I pray.

9 comments:

  1. Thanks, Paula. I hope you send a version of this as a Letter to the Editor, too.

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  2. Thanks for your compassionate post. I do hope you send it to the newspaper also. - jpy

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  3. I agree with the others. This is definitely worth sending as a Letter to the Editor...sure am mad about it, but your thoughtful words do more to help than all of our anger put together...Thank you.

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  4. Thank you for sharing, Paula! I hope your words (which express my thoughts, and I'm sure those of many others) are helpful in softening the hearts of our community members.

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    1. This is Annie, btw. Although I'm sure Greg agrees with me :)

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  5. Very compassionate, well written, with empathy! Please submit it to the newspaper Paula, it deserves a wider audience.

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