I sure picked a hell of a week to launch this new positivity project.
This week has been one of the most stressful in recent memory. Practically all of Southern California is on literal fire. While I live in Nor Cal, much of my family and many friends live in So Cal. My hometown in particular was torn asunder by the fire. The town where my dad and sister and her family all still live and were forced to evacuate.
I no longer live in this town, and haven’t for years, but it is inextricably a part of me. It is still home in my heart, and having just visited there a several weeks ago when the Sonoma County fires drove us out (what an irony), my little family found respite and relief and nurturing there in the shelter of its fresh air, natural beauty and the big, open arms of my family.
The day the fires broke was frantic. It was back and forth calls and texts all around my family chain. It took me a few hours to truly realize the magnitude, that this was actually happening there and to them. As it became clear that the fire was rapidly growing, we kept checking in about evacuation, firefighter efforts, air quality, if the houses and schools and animals were okay (many were not).
In the moment, as the fire raged on, it wasn’t clear what, if anything, was going to be spared. Fire is non-discerning and terrorizing, and this one in particular was aided by monstrous winds. My family was getting spotty reception as cell towers burned. Minutes and hours would pass without word, my mind and heart raced with questions and fear: are they okay? Did something happen? The waiting, the wondering.
As the time ticked by with very little information, I was forced to rely on my faith and trust again and again. When a call would go to voicemail, or I would see an update that the fire was approaching my dad’s neighborhood, I would have to take a deep breath and just be okay in the wait. Say my most fervent prayers and hold steady in my belief that I could trust them to leave when they needed to, and also a deeper faith and trust that they would be okay. That everyone we know and love would be okay. That as monstrous and terrifying as a fire of this magnitude was (and really continues to be), that they would manage to escape its clutches.
This faith came from what I witnessed and continue to witness all week long. Witnessing the first responders who are doing everything in their power to not only contain, control and ultimately extinguish the fire, but doing so with stern focus and determined hearts. Witnessing the community take care of one another by opening their homes to evacuees, offering to bring respirators, cases of water, transport animals to safety. Witnessing the miracle of community. What a humbling and inspiring gift.
I spent much of Tuesday an agitated ball of stress. I watched videos people were posting of the fires, reading where in the town it was burning from sporadic updates, upon who it was encroaching and approaching. But my stress, my worry, was nothing compared to living through it. My family has stories of seeing the flames, feeling the heat from the fire, watching as it jumped. They had to live the game “what would you grab in a fire” and actually pack all that is near and dear in a car, leaving the rest behind with a heavy and burdened heart, with no guarantee the home with all of their beloved things and memories would be standing by the time they returned.
My dad and sister made it out safely. My sister and her family came to stay with us until the smoke clears (literally). When they arrived late at night, and I was finally able to put my arms around her, we both sobbed for the fear, the relief, the losses she had already suffered. They were safe, now it was okay to fall apart.
To have her and her family, my family, safely contained within the walls of my home, to have my community and family up here support and offer help in any way they can (bringing over groceries, extra blankets, pillows, and sleeping pads) has reminded me what beauty there is in this world. Not because ugly doesn’t exist, but because we carry on and love each other through it.
This will be a tragedy for so many. The loss of homes, schools, offices, pets. To all, it is a devastation. A reminder that these things do happen, even in a sleepy, beautiful town seemingly nestled far from the outside world. There is no indication of the scope of damage to the town yet, or to the state for that matter, and there likely won’t be for awhile. I’m sure it will take a long time to rebuild all that is lost. But it was clear from the moment this started that the spirit and resilience of the people who will do the rebuilding is stronger than ever.
There is no ignoring the grueling horrors of the world. There will always be disasters that are out of our control. But in our response to them, and in opening our hearts and arms and homes, we are reminded of the power of connection, the beauty of compassion, and the gift of community. We are reminded that love is fortifying. That the horror of it doesn’t define it. That in it, we are able to love harder and stronger than ever. That we can come back from anything.
We are reminded that it’s called an act of God for a reason.
Photos courtesy of my dad
If you would like to support the victims of the fires you may do so at:
American Red Cross A donation to the Red Cross can help provide food and shelter to those directly impacted by the fires. From the menu at the top of the page, select Donate – I Want To Support – Your local Red Cross.
To make cash donations to the United Way of Ventura County, Text UWVC to 41444 and 100% of the donations will go directly to those affected by the fires.
This article has a comprehensive guide to all the other ways to support the victims of all the fires.