An agnostic’s prayer: Much love on a day of tragic losses in Portland and Sacopee Valley


Yesterday morning on Noyes Street in Portland a home to many was ravaged by fire. We know that 5 people lost their lives and one person was badly burned. It was the city’s deadliest fire in 30 years. Here in the Sacopee Valley, almost exactly one year after the tragic death of a young high school student and a handful of months after a young alumnus—a veteran—took his own life, two teenagers died in a horrific car accident. Two others were hospitalized. Everyone in proximity to those affected remain in various states of shock.

Much love to everyone affected, and to everyone else too because our time here is short and unpredictable and we don’t say it enough. Damn me for not remembering this as clearly as I do in times like these.

Life can be as beautiful as it can be brutal, yes, and you often get out of it what you put in. Sometimes, though, we are confronted with tests that feel random at best, evocative Job’s trials at worst. Our mental and emotional stability and sometimes our mortality itself is put on the line. While I might not believe these to be assessments of our commitment to God in a religious sense, they can certainly test our commitment and faith in a broader way, particularly to our own lives and overall well being.

In these times, we offer ourselves using narratives that align with our perspectives and outlooks, so sometimes our vocabularies are different. We keep people in our thoughts, we express that we are speechless, we pray for those affected, which are all expressions intended to acknowledge these aforementioned occasional random outbursts of unpredictable brutality. Outside of providing essential resources, there is literally nothing we can do now but to acknowledge this, and to bear witness to that fact so that those most affected know that they are not enduring this alone. There will be a time when the fog clears a bit, a time to act, a time when we continue to fight the respective causes of these tragedies, but between right now and when that time comes we make ourselves available. This offering is the first of many, and among so many other things, we intend to illustrate an alternative to abandoning hope.

Regardless of our varied or conflicting insights, perspectives, and faith traditions, we come together to offer our love and consideration, and we make ourselves available as we, at our elemental cores, would never want for anyone to have to go through these things alone. In our daily lives our default response is often combat or conflict—we are ashamed to admit—because we are distracted from graver inevitabilities; we are wrapped up in the logistics of distraction. Damn us for not remembering. But we are now confronted with these gut-wrenching reminders and we redirect our attention. We re-focus, we pray, we keep the tragedies and those affected in our thoughts, we offer our consideration and our acknowledgement that at the most fundamental, most elemental levels we are all of the very same fabric, and we are all in this together.

NOTE [November 3, 2014, 11:00p]: Chris Ledue Shorr recently checked in on the various ways the community is offering tangible support to those affected by the Noyes Street fire.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.