Saturday, November 10, 2018

Drawn to The Fire: How Tragedy Brings Us Together

California is burning. I'm fortunate not to be in close proximity to any of the currently active wildfires, but my son lives just four miles from the Camp Fire in Northern California. Jacob and I communicated by text throughout Thursday night as the fire consumed over 6,400 homes, 230 businesses, and innumerable creatures in its path. His neighborhood was supposedly still safe, but what if the winds shifted? Should he wait or evacuate with a few possessions and his cats? Would he lose the job he'd just started, located a stone's throw from the fire line?

In the end my son decided to stay put, although he packed up his car with life-saving necessities, staged valuables near the door, and made sure his gas tank was full and devices charged. While we waited for any new alerts or fire updates, videos of terrified families began popping up on social media. Cars driving through flames, people abandoning their vehicles to flee on foot, the sounds of exploding propane tanks punctuating the terror. By midway through the next day we learned of several residents who didn't get out in time, of injured firefighters, and of overflowing shelters. The #CampFire has already exploded to over 100,000 acres, the largest and most devastating fire loss in California wildfire history. As I write this on Saturday morning, it's just 20% contained. The air quality across the state is equal to Beijing's. And more fires have started.

When I was a young mother, my car and U-Haul caught on fire while driving with everything we owned from Houston, Texas to Tuscon, Arizona. All my photos and journals, my beloved 12-string guitar, and all our clothing went up in flames. I stood at the side of the road holding my one-year-old baby, watching the black smoke engulf the car. I marveled at how fast the fire grew and how lucky we were to have escaped unharmed. The experience was traumatic, but what I remember most were the people who stopped to help. The family who played with my little girl while I talked with the police. A woman who comforted me as I cried. RV owners who offered us a ride to our destination. 

Loss changes you, be it physical possessions. a home, a marriage, or a loved one. Fire is a fierce metaphor for transformation. I used it in This I Know, to underscore how tragedy brings people together, and refuels our humanity. We're already seeing it happen around the fires. People who've lost their own homes volunteering at shelters. An evacuee who rescued a puppy. An RV couple who picked up people fleeing from the fire. And firefighters who rescued a donkey. At a time when our country feels so divided, it fills me with hope when I see us helping each other. 

While the wildfires rage around us, it's the flame within us that propels us forward and defines us as human beings. Once again I'm reminded of my favorite Ram Dass quote, "We are all just walking each other home." Grab someone's hand. Hold your people close. Remember why we're here. 

We are all just walking each other home

If you'd like to contribute to the relief fund for the 6,432 families who lost their homes in a single day, you can join me in contributing to NorCal United Way <-----by clicking on that link, or texting BUTTERFIRE to 91999. All proceeds from sales of any of my books during the month of November will be donated to victims of the #CampFire in Butte County.