Throughout 19 days of evacuation, I refused to let my imagination wander to the "what ifs" of a fire that threatened our home. There is, after all, nothing to be done to stop or change the path of an angry Mother Nature. Worry only distracts us from doing real things to make ourselves and others feel better. But just days ago, when I heard that evacuation orders had been lifted, something unrealized and uncontrollable arose for me. I physically felt a new rush of joy and the presence of sadness that I'd repressed. We still had a home waiting for us under the cedars, on the crinoline skirts of a beautiful lake.
And, briefly, here's what we found upon entering our forest-green home – a refrigerator that had been off for the duration of the emergency, oozing a gelatinous liquid onto the kitchen floor that was covered with tiny gnats and a buzzing community of flies. I wrapped the device with duct tape, and through superhuman effort, my husband and Mark, a neighbor, pushed the Samsung out a side door onto a patio.
A thick layer of ash and charred black cinders had flown on the wind and carpeted the outdoors – decks, furniture, gardens. I looked up into the smokey sky and wondered how burning embers had traveled for miles, floated down through the trees, and landed without sparking a fire. For the next two days, we rolled up our sleeves and worked – knowing how very lucky we were and feeling deeply sad for those who genuinely lost nearly everything to the Caldor fire.
I heard from many readers over the past few weeks – with sympathies and with their own stories of disasters they've experienced. It's a new and shared reality in a climate of multiple dangers that remind us to never take a once-normal life for granted. Here are a few examples from email messages:
"Our air quality in Colorado has been among the worst in the world (for several days Denver was ranked the worst large city) due to the fires here, coupled with those from the west coast." - John in Colorado
"Our nemesis is hurricanes, but I think your fire situation is even worse." - Patsy in the Virgin Islands
"My thoughts and prayers go out to you and all the others impacted by these fires. I have friends that are currently on evac, and they, too, have mentioned the kindness of strangers amidst the chaos. The stories of despair and triumph weigh heavy on one's heart." – John S.
And this, from Nancy – a friend from high school days. She and her husband John threw themselves into Katrina cleanup:
"I had my very own pry bar (red, thank you very much), hazmat suits with hoods, eye covering, and a safety respirator that was supposed to protect us from the large amounts of nasty molds in homes that had been flooded then marinated ... These homes often still had everything in them that was there the day of the hurricane. It was hard to see obvious family treasures, dolls, teacups, and China, wood furniture … One house we did had clearly just been remodeled, new bath and kitchen appliances, new toilet and tub, and a watermark on her freshly painted walls that went up 4 feet on the wall."
A natural disaster tests us all in different ways. For me, the awareness of loss and pain suffered by others puts my own in perspective. What we came home to does not begin to compare with what our neighbors in Grizzly Flats will face for many months, or how families in New Orleans will survive without power for several weeks as the region bakes in heat and humidity – this, without even considering the rest of a world roiling with danger, displacement, and extreme weather events.
The past 18 months delivered so much to us all – from the morphing pandemic to extreme and deadly climate behavior that promises to impact the lives of our children and grandchildren. I don't know if our collective psyche is constructed to absorb so much – like a serial drama that can't possibly resolve.
Sometimes, it's the simple things we can do that help manage so much that's well out of our control. Dr. Shannon Suo, a specialist in psychiatry and family medicine, suggests creating a daily ritual. "When people find themselves worrying about so many different things and getting upset or feeling overwhelmed by the very real crises that are happening every day… it can be helpful to give yourself permission to worry for just a finite period of time each day….Worry the heck out of it. What's interesting is when you're forced to put all your time into worrying about one thing, it seems to take up a lot less space. And if it creeps into your mind during other times, remind yourself - you've got time to worry about it at your 'set' time."
Add to that (as did Nancy with Katrina's aftermath) a commitment to help people in greater need. Not only do we lighten the burden of others, but we regain a sense of our own personal control. Brain science agrees – there is a physical link between generosity toward others and our own feelings of happiness. From shared pain to mutual benefit with a simple act of kindness.
Caldor 9/08/21: 217,560 acres / 50% containment / 4,280 Personnel
Thanks for sticking with me through recent blogs that are not amusing or whimsical. I wonder what it will take for my sense of fun and humor to return? Like you – I am just wishing for a period of calm and optimism. Let me know how you're feeling – how you are moving ahead. I'll save up your ideas and share them with readers!!
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