Thing was, I wasn't the only one standing there. There were little groups of people all around looking up at the house. Here was a couple shielding their eyes from the sun and squinting to get a better view of the "action." Here was a young woman looking up, her mouth agape in fascination. Others were there as well, and we were all of us just spectators. Tourists.
I think we all realized that there's a certain beauty in such an occurrence, and I've held this same fascination for most of my life. It's almost as though in the face of something like this, we're given a reminder of just how fragile we are. When a house burns, it is history being made in a very immediate and tangible way. First, there was this thing that represents stability and permanence, and then, in the course of a day, it became dangerous and unlivable. In our overly sterile, pre-fab culture, it is a moment of clarity that lends character and meaning to the moment and to the place.
There's a Buddhist parable I read recently where Gautama was asked by a mother to resurrect her dead son. He said he would if she were to bring him a mustard seed from a house in which no one had died. She searched and searched, and after some time returned to him, not having found such a house. Her son was still dead, but she had learned just how impermanent everything is.
She'd have no such trouble finding that house now. Since birth and death have been moved into appropriate "facilities," we don't have to face our mortality. Beyond graduation and marriage, we even lack the rituals which should mark the passage of time and remind us of the death and birth cycle in a meaningful way. The sense of real urgency has been stripped away, and in its place we've manufactured crises over the most ridiculous things. (I mean, does it really matter if a man's hair is a little thinner or if there are lines showing around a woman's eyes?) We bow before a cult of youth because we've never given up our immature desires for immortality, and because the young don't show the subtle signs that their dreams of immortality are myths.
Every once in a while, something reminds us of the myth, and like it or not, it is fascinating to us.