It’s still difficult to write a column now, after these horrendous wildfires. Moving into the rainy season and holidays, my eyes are bulging out of my head.
We enter winter with mixed emotions. I’m sure most of us share more vulnerability while others are grateful. But, it’s hard to know how to digest it all.
My heart aches as I see one house standing while the next is a pile of ash. I can’t fathom how it feels to lose everything. I stare at people celebrating their safety while others grieve. I listen to friends about guilt feelings and hear stories of unspeakable pain. I experience new hope and many deeply moving stories of loss and gain.
I am still gasping for air from it all, literally. And so are most of us. We feel trauma of some kind and layers of emotions, flashbacks, relief or sorrow. And on top of all this I am hearing experiences of sudden unexpected losses even now.
One positive thought I have in all of this is that that maybe we will have more empathy as we gain understanding of what it’s like in Puerto Rico or Las Vegas or among the starving children and neglected animals in India, Africa or elsewhere. Perhaps our California can move away from greed and narcissism a bit as we are also humbled by crisis. I’m hopeful that caring about the common good will matter more after we have known, in our bones, how it feels to live in fear and not knowing if we have shelter, food or safety.
I write heavy columns like this with mixed feelings too, because I know we all need a bit of wit to get through it all. So here’s a lighter, tiny story: As I packed during the whiplash of evacuation notices, fires surrounding the Valley and police pounding on doors, I stuffed my car with sweatshirts and lifted a very heavy piece of porcelain, a statue of a polka dot dog from my yard. It was embarrassing to put it in the back seat of my car with its tail in the air. I wondered — would looters want that thing?
And then to look at my precious library of books and only take one with me — called, “The Importance of Being Idle” by Tom Hodgkinson –- who writes: “Mark Twain never liked work much. He preferred fun. And Thoreau turned his back on the busy rushing of the commercial world to seek freedom in the woods… It’s time to be idle…” So, with this calming book and ceramic dog in tow, I wrestled with shock.
Now, we have to struggle with loss and gain, re-evaluate what matters to us and how to ask for help or be helpful. We deserve to rest and regain our strength. We need resiliency and self-care.
But, let’s not become too destabilized by disaster. Sorrow is important but so is taking steps towards a different future and bouncing back. As Naomi Klein writes “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about shock… We need to focus on what this Administration will do when it has a major external shock to exploit. Maybe it will be an economic crash like 2008. Maybe a natural disaster like Sandy.” Her point is: don’t allow ourselves to disassociate and forget our power as people. We can’t let greed and crisis overtake us.
Healing takes time and gentleness, it includes powerlessness and personal power, but there is also rebuilding to do and the hard work of changing our world for the better. Both personal and political action is needed to improve our environment. We can save our world with a lot of work, useful conversations and taking one step at a time. It is important to do something. The rescuers outnumbered the looters. We can rescue our land, loved ones, our beloved animals and earth. With a little humor, self-care, and some good times, we can do it.
Maybe that’s why, when I evacuated, I also packed my teddy bear and vibrator.