It gets harder and harder. Sleep is not deep or restful. Days are long, but somehow, weeks and months are short (how is it possible that this is the middle of September?).
When our country was attacked by an enemy outside our shore, we came together and responded as one community. Pearl Harbor. 9/11. There were others…. but when we are attacked from within our own shores, we are divided. School shootings, police brutality, racial tensions erupting like never before, a health issue that has become a global pandemic. Somehow, we choose to believe we don’t have a common enemy; we choose sides instead of choosing to come together to process and grieve, learn and move forward together to vanquish this thing that has divided us, to heal from the event or belief or disease that is killing us. It becomes a political game instead of a catalyst for enhanced human connection. We are led by fear instead of facts, self-interest instead of mutual goals. Wrestling for power and control instead of struggling to understand and come together.
Two years ago, when the Camp Fire swept through our community, it decimated 95% of the town, destroying – everything – so completely that we truly felt we were “Paradise lost.” We were all suddenly homeless, devastated, grateful for our lives but unable to even fathom what came next. And then unexpectedly, help came. The response to our disaster was overwhelming, literally an avalanche of assistance that came from – well, from everywhere. Clothes. Food. Shelter. Services. It was too much to process. The loving, giving responses, the offers for help, the people who came with no agenda but to provide a bit of – hope – was incredible, truly a light in the darkness, all those months ago. I remember it still, and just the memory of the many kindnesses bring tears to my eyes as I recall those days. And so we united, for a time, the survivors, those who moved on to new communities and began new lives, and those who stayed on to construct a new town, a new Paradise. The light of hope and shared purpose helped us carry on to begin again.
On the heels of our recovery, full of hope and leaps of faith by returning residents and businesses alike, as we gathered for newly-created events and re-established much-loved traditions, coming together to move forward as the “new pioneers of Paradise,” came a global pandemic unlike anything we could have imagined. Staying safe changed from “just” safeguarding our homes and properties, making sure they were cleared of overgrowth and dead trees and plants, to also safeguarding our health and the health of loved ones, keeping our distance from one another; an isolation of a new kind, crippling the robust progress we had begun to see here. It’s harder, now, to project hope, to say “we will come back, we are #paradisestrong.” It seems to get harder every day we are apart from one another. We know we are not alone – the world, everywhere, has been affected, this time around. But it feels harder, here. We have already lost so much: our homes, businesses, jobs; our entire physical community; our daily routines and favorite places; our friends who have moved away or who died. We had begun to re-establish our lives, our homes, our community. Now – now we wait, frozen in a holding pattern of indeterminate end. We are risk-takers – we are, after all, rebuilding our town – but we are divided over the risks to take in this new disaster. All of the wounds and frustrations associated with rebuilding. from the new building code restrictions put into place after the fire (to mitigate some of the issues that we learned were dangerous but preventable), to the issues with still-standing dead trees, to the stalled resources and services; all are bubbling to the surface. Our nation, too, is stuck, it seems: divided over causes and solutions, attacking one another instead of working together to move forward. The world seems dark with pain, anger, fear, hate. And each day, it’s harder to find the optimism, the hope… the light.
Some days are harder than others. Today, though, smoke from the fires all over our burning state – the air quality that summons the demons of two years ago as we escaped with our lives — seems a bit less present. The triple-digit heat wave that is predicted to return hasn’t yet arrived, though it is already nearly noon. Feelings of new life and new possibilities find their way into my heart, like the new growth that appeared on our burned up town even before we were ready to see it. Hope returns.
I ….can’t. Though it is hard; harder, it seems, each day, I can’t stay in a dark place. I go there, more often than I want, more often than before. I go, and cry, and rage at this new not-normal that is my life right now. I want to move forward, to make progress, to live my life, but… I can’t do that, either. Still… something reminds me: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
However hard this is, for all of us, we need to – we MUST remember to carry and protect our light. One candle lights another, and another, and… it is the way out of this gloomy place.
The world is dark. I am not.