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  • Reverend James Squire

Fire And Respect

This past Tuesday I received a call from a neighbor on the Chesapeake that a brush fire was on my other neighbor’s property which was spreading like wildfire. The fire began when the son of the new owner started a small fire at the base of a steep cliff that all of the properties share. Since it was sold to someone new, I asked friends to get the owner’s name and number and call me back. Vicki was out of town for the week with sorority sisters, and I was in the middle of getting a newly installed HVAC job completed. I have a caretaker for the Chesapeake home and property. We built the home as a family project with our own hands so there was an emotional component to it all.

News of the fire appeared in the Cecil Whig, the county wide newspaper, the next day and stated that five firetrucks, 25 firemen from across the counties and a fireboat arrived on the scene. My caretaker who was there and my neighbors assured me that I didn’t have to come down because my property was not affected. The neighbors on our stretch all cooperate with one another and look out for each another. The fire could have easily taken out the homes on that part of the cliff overlooking the bay. The only home affected were the grounds and not the house of the new neighbor. I left a message with him to call me and he did after he was able to get to his property. When the new owner called me, I was still angry and so was he. I was OK until he said, “you should thank my son that your property was saved.” I indicated that we should end the conversation before we say something to each other that would be difficult to take back. I called for a meeting on my deck at 2 on Saturday, the first time I could get there.

What I learned in the interim was that the new owner was a fellow whose business was flipping homes. He was worth a lot of money, was retiring at 43, and leaving the business to the son who had started the fire in an attempt to clear the land of underbrush. He had done this safely on many other properties that his father owned, but he forgot about the lack of rain. He was a rapper whose website showed him with his girlfriend and in a music studio. His video was typical of what we usually think when we hear the word rapper. The neighbors on the cliff were concerned that the owner wasn’t going to do anything on his land to combat erosion. Our homes are in the Critical Area where the Chesapeake Bay Act tightly governs any homes within a thousand feet of the Bay that are beachfront or have a bulkhead.

The father called me on the Friday night before our meeting about his son never listening to him. He went on to say, “I am not the blame! He is!” But he is a good kid!” I tell everyone never have a phone conversation about an emotionally laden issue. It is doomed. Before it went off the rails, I stopped it and told him we would meet the next day.

Before I go further what images come to your mind of the character of the new owner and his son? My self-fulfilling prophecy was that both of these fellows would be a nightmare. There was one other neighbor with me for the meeting. The others were out sailing!

My family members often kid me and ask, “Is Big Jim” going to come out? I have a long fuse, but if you disrespect me or someone in my presence, “watch out.” As the saying goes, you can take the kid out of his blue color world, but you can’t that the blue-collar world out of him.” I now see it as a strength where I use to see it as a weakness. I can’t stand injustice or disrespect. It is my hot button. It is part of my personality. Students knew this. Hence, no discipline problems with any students. The cared about me as well which helped.

The meeting with the owner and his son was interesting. Hard conversations were frequent for me. When the owner and the son arrived on my deck, the father was much bigger than me. The son looked like a typical rapper with chains around his neck. Recall that I have written that sometimes you can tell the character of a person you are meeting in the first fifteen seconds that you meet.

The son who was in his twenties apologized profusely and sincerely for what he had done. The father shouted that he didn’t like people talking down to him. (His interpretation). “Big Jim” was out of the box. He got up and was ready to storm away. I stayed in my seat, and told him to sit down because now he was talking down to me. He returned to the table and sat down. If he didn’t, resolution of the matter would have been lost.

I indicated to his son that I was grateful for his apology. He made a mistake, apologized, and let’s move forward. I also indicated to the father that his son was a quality human being. Just as I made assumptions about him. He had made assumptions about me. He thought I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Given the worth of these properties, it is reasonable for him to come to that conclusion.

He went on to say that he wanted to hold his son accountable because he came up hard and tough sometimes having to get food from a dumpster. His wife abandoned him and his kids. His son considers his stepmother to be his real mother. When I mentioned my history including working in mills and the steel mill to go to college, they both responded that steel mill work is harder than construction. Common ground can change the nature of difficult conversations.

But here is what I didn’t know which is why the father was angry that I didn’t thank his son for what he did after the fire spread. His son wet his T shirt, put it over his face and took my garden hose and made his way along my property line to save my property and house while his stair down to the bulkhead was burning. He saved my property without regard for his own life or home.

Privately, the son told me how hard his dad had worked to make his company a success and the love and respect he had for his dad. It wasn’t his father’s fear that motivated him. It was his love for his dad. He indicated that if he makes it in the music business, he will still keep the business to honor his dad.

The son came to our home that night of the meeting to get counsel from Vicki on what to plant.

His dad came to my deck the next morning to make sure I couldn’t hear his radio when he was playing it while in his hot tub. I couldn’t.

For those of you who don’t believe in the relevance of the Bible. After you read this check out the story of the Good Samaritan. Basically, it states the power of being helped by those from which you least expect it. You need to know that the Samaritans were hated people by the Jews for the Samaritans were Jewish people in the Northern Kingdom of Israel who intermarried with the Assyrians who had conquered the Jewish nation. Sometimes, like me, you find a good, no a great, neighbor when you least expect it. But that works both ways. For the new neighbor he wanted respect from others and he had it along with affection from his son. He also wanted him to be accountable for his actions. He and I at our core wanted respect as our requirement from others. We had common emotional ground. Aretha Franklin had in right with her best-selling song, Respect. It was the #1 record in 1967.

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