All of us receive Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins’ emails. We get them so often, in fact, that they’ve almost become some kind of campus-wide joke. The email seems to always bear the news of some random graduate student on some random street on some random night. And so, we check our phone, heed his warnings not to walk alone at night and move on. No, it could never be any of us.
So when an email noting a series of house fires landed in the mailbox of students on campus a few Thursdays ago, few batted an eye — understandably so. It wasn’t your house, the fires were put out within hours and the situation appeared to be under control.
Unless, of course, that house happened to be your home. My home. The place I share with eight other students. It was our house that someone had — allegedly, of course — set on fire.
On a Thursday morning earlier this month, I was awoken at 3 a.m. by an alarmed friend banging on my door. “Get out,” he screamed. In my daze, I rejected his commands and insisted on the more comfortable alternative of staying in bed. “The house is on fire,” the friend said, now yelling. As I looked outside and saw the flames grow, I realized this was more serious than a roommate simply pulling a prank. As I saw fire trucks arrive outside, I quickly ran out in nothing but my underwear and a pair of loafers. Fortunately, no one was hurt — save for a slight blow to my self-esteem — and any damage could be repaired. Still, the panic and confusion of the event remain in the collective memory of those of us who had been attacked.
Now nearly two weeks later, it still doesn’t make any more sense. It was an illogical act that I simply cannot rationalize. Maybe if it had been a hate crime, I could have come to better grips with the motive. Prejudice and malice would have driven a person to take such an act. But setting three random, student-occupied houses on fire? With no apparent rhyme or reason except to cause harm? I won’t attempt to find logic in that type of behavior.
But this column is not about a fire. It is not about crime in New Haven or even Chief Higgins’ barrage of emails. This is a column about a moment I realized I was part of something bigger than myself.
Throughout the nine hours following the event, I never once felt alone or scared. Despite the fact that my living room now had a hole in it and our furniture was scorched, despite the fact that the fires could have emblazoned the entire house, despite the fact that the chances of finding the perpetrator were low, I felt safe. Perhaps safe is too strong a word when you are the target of an arsonist, but at the very least, I felt taken care of.
The night of the fire, I was immediately offered a place to sleep at a house across the street. That same morning, before I thought anyone besides the fire department and police even knew about the fire, masters and deans started contacting my fellow housemates. They offered places to stay, meal swipes — anything that would make life a little easier and safer.
It’s often hard to gauge how deeply our communities run, and it’s easy to doubt the strength of these connections. After all, it’s not often that the strength of these bonds is tested — and we should be thankful for that. Events that test these communities are rarely happy ones. But to know that these connections really had value, that they were strong enough to make me feel OK despite everything that had happened, confirmed something for me.
This summer, I felt lost. I felt as if I were between homes. My home in Indiana seemed foreign to me when I visited; the people I had once recognized had now become barely identifiable faces with no names that I could attach to them.
And yet, I wasn’t sure if Yale was my home. I wasn’t sure if this place — a place that I had only been, and only will be at, for a fraction of my life — could take the place of the home where I grew up. This was especially true given the knowledge that my time here — our time here — is so ephemeral.
But after the fire, after the support, after the feeling of safety, I knew this place had taken on a new sense of significance. Rather than making me feel pushed away from my surroundings, I felt reaffirmed that relationships here at Yale are more genuine than the classic “let’s grab a meal” conversation may imply. There’s simply no other word to call a place with this kind of community. Despite the knowledge that this will only be a place I will be at for a few more years, I know that during my time here I’m not merely at a pit stop, at a place between where I was and where I will be. I’m at home.
Leo Kim is a junior in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .