It was the day after Christmas 1990 and I was visiting my sister who lives some 30 odd minutes away from Montreal. It was about 9:30 in the evening when the phone rang and it was for me. My superior was on the other end. “Brother Rolph, are you seated?” I was standing in the kitchen window looking outside at the snow but I answered “Yes, what is it?” and the reply came: “There has been a fire at the house where you live and your appartment has burnt down”. “Wow, should I come in?” I asked and he said “There is nothing to go to. Go to the other fraternity in the area for the moment” I was shocked and thought, “It must be on the 10 o’clock news” and so I asked my sister if we could watch. Sure enough on the local news it was mentioned “A fire on the plateau” and I watched in shock as I saw a firemen up on a ladder outside what used to be my window and where a huge flame like a tongue of fire was shooting out and he had the hose pointed there. It was minus 20 degrees Celsius! The images of that night were photographed in my memory forever.
The next day, one of my nieces drove me in. There was a bit of a crowd watching as the flames were still smouldering and the steps and most of the exterior of the building was still standing. We moved our way through to the entrance and a police officer asked me for proof of my living there and so I showed him a card with my name and address and he allowed us through. My niece was more energetic than I and she went up to the steps and called to me to follow and so I did until we came to the bottom of the steps leading to my appartment on the top floor. The water sprayed by the firemen at 20 below zero had frozen on the steps leaving them coated in ice but the bannister was still there and we began our way up. She was leading and she said “Oh I can see a picture on the wall.. there must be things you can recuperate”. I was suddenly blocked as I could see the blue sky indoicating there was no more roof. It was the top floor which meant my ceiling was gone and I imagined the mess that lay on the floor. I was frozen in my steps and my niece was beconing me and I said “No, lets turn back I just cant go on. I cant see that!”
We came down and mended our way back to the car and I cant remember anything more except my taking residence in another house about some 15 minutes from that one. I sat, a few days later in the office of my superior and cried and I expressed that I prayed hard to leave that house as I was unhappy there and he said “You told me that you did not like that place and you wanted to leave. I asked you to wait until spring. Now you have left but what a price you paid.” The experience of a fire I felt, was like a death of someone close or even it felt like a thief had come into my home and stole everything. It is an experience I would never wish to happen to anyone. It was like a death of many things. There were addresses that I could never recuperate. I did not have a computer and it was impossible even to this day, to trace some friends from Australia and other far away countries.There were souvenirs of India and drawings and notes and music and books and oh so many objects. In a year or so later I would be looking for something only to realise it was gone in the fire.
I was told we had fire insurance. We were not the owners and it was learnt that the fire began becasue of faulty wiring in the roof and with the extra winter heating, wires were rotten and burnt their way into the ceiling. The insurance told us to buy what we needed to replace and keep the bils for them. What to buy first? a tooth brush or socks or what? I was touched by the generosity of friends who gave me sweaters and scarves and some necessary items. One day I felt annoyed with God and I said that the fire had come like a thief in the night. “You took everything without my giving you. If only you had left me my working instruments, my files and important books etc!”
There was a call from the owner asking us to come and look over our rooms as there were still some things in there. I was persuaded by a friend and we went. He carried an axe as many objects were still frozen in ice. I was able to recuperate files which we pulled out and took them home and I used a method to preserve them, too long to detail here.
Looking at my shelf of books, only three books were not burnt. A Bible in English, and one in French and a little book containing the Rule and Life of the Franciscan Friar. I held this book in my hand examining it and seeing the water stains and the cover slightly warped and a card fell from it to the floor. I picked it up. It was handwritten, a note which I copied from somehwere and it stated, “In life, everything is called to disappear one day. All that will remain is the image of God in your soul” I still cherish this .