Disasters stir the depth of our human heart and the breadth of our human experience.
We are not only confronted with the possibility of our homes burning but are presented with reviewing the state of things, including the decisions on how to proceed in our thoughts and actions.
The night the Kincade Fire broke, I was up late posting, reading updates, and talking to friends and family about the terrifying crisis happening again in Sonoma County, the beloved place where I grew up. A once-in-a-hundred-year wind threatened to exacerbate the flames and ravage this special place. I prayed. Yet, a wash of anxiety, concern, and fear prevailed even amongst my meditation and solidarity calls.
The California landscape was built to burn. The ecology of the grasslands, the redwood forests, and the hills were made for fire. Nature is so wise, so strong, so intelligent. It will regrow. Wildflowers will blossom and new growth will sprout as soon as the first rains fall.
Although I still mourn the animals who lost their homes and habitats, and the landscape that will never look as I remember, at least in my lifetime—it is the people I’m concerned about.
This fire stirred in me so many thoughts and feelings. And like others, it brought up residual memories from past fire seasons. As someone who works with people, my mind and heart were aflame with the impacts these catastrophic climate events have on our human family.
For starters, in an evacuation, communities fragment as people retreat to safety. The stress of the modern world, the economy, and our dependence on personal wealth for our basic needs contributes to the stress of the situation as people wonder, “How on earth will we survive?”
In the midst of such an event, I heard horror stories of pharmacies charging $1,000 for necessary medication, hotels jacking up the prices of rooms to over $1,200 a night, and roadside assistance not aiding someone (due to a lapsed bill) who—in the process of evacuating—had locked their keys in the car.
Over 100 homes have been confirmed lost in the Kincade fire while thousands of homes were lost in the fires of the previous two years. Not only that, but people lost their livelihood, as businesses burned, and their work is now gone.
The stress of disaster events on the mental health and well-being of all people—but particularly kids, families, elders, folks with disabilities, undocumented folks, and those that live alone—is huge.
And, people did die in previous fires. I honor them and the grief of their family and friends. I honor those injured who will be tending to their wounds for years, and the firefighters and first responders who risk permanent adverse health effects from working so close and for so long in hazardous chemical-ridden conditions. For some, it has been a complete loss.
In reflecting on these fires, I not only experienced concern and grief but also anger: Blame directed at PG&E for their horrific lack of respect, poor judgment, and sociopathic capitalistic mindset of money at the expense of everything. Utter rage for a dysfunctional, unsustainable, unconscious system that we find ourselves trapped in, numbed and dumbed by. Our dependence on so many destructive entities has caused immense harm to the environment and to the mental and physical health and well-being of the people and planet.
Angry at the poor choices that our predecessors made that led us to this state of affairs. Outrage for our ancestors who were wise and not heard. Disturbed for not listening and not taking action sooner. Vexed at the past, present, and the future. Tragedies make it easy to think, “What future?”
There is a way in which I can be really cynical. Do you relate?
Fear and stress can be crippling. Not to mention, the trauma and sheer grief of it all. In experiencing these events we not only mourn for ourselves, for our communities, and for the land, but we mourn for the whole history of the world and for humanity. We mourn our past, our present, and our future.
No, really, stop and think about that for a moment. Feel that? The impact of this?
We mourn our past, our present, and our future.
An event like this makes us realize that we had already lost so much even before our homes actually burned. And that is truly heartbreaking.
It is so important to feel the grief and the pain of all of this. Our grief and our pain—though incredibly hard—point us to our deepest humanity. Without this depth of feeling, we are as thin as the ash that flew through the sky.
These are hard, scary, and painful times, and we can be grateful for our grief and shared struggle. These aspects of our human experience are what also keeps us moving forward. The goal of climbing a mountain is not to get to the top; it’s to get back down again.
It’s also important to remember that the stress and suffering are not all there is to feel, experience, and think about either. This is not a one-way street. Throughout these fires, I also heard beautiful stories of the community coming out to support each other. People opening their homes and doing so much more. We still know the juicy goodness of being human.
When I remember my faith and love of nature, wild nature, I know that we are no different than the complex and interconnected landscapes of my home. Visualizing the rolling hills and grasslands of Healdsburg, the oak trees and creeks of West County, the redwoods and the wetlands. Even with the fire, I know those places are still alive and thriving.
This event is so much more than just a fire. Within our grief rests resilience and power. Within our fear is wisdom, strength, and totality. We need to (and can) remember these capacities within us. We are able to withstand such losses and move forward.
We are in this together. Our power has the potential to move mountains for us personally, as individuals, and as an audacious mass creating immense change as we rebuild our world. This is important. Nature is still there; our wild nature is still there, and we, too, like the plants and animals know how to find our way home.
Even though our familiar places have burned, we rise, not like ashes from the fire, but like fresh green shoots ready to replenish the ground we grow in, and in a way that creates an even more abundant, sustainable, and healthy world than what stood there before.
These tragedies are opportunities. As we make our way down the mountain, we now know to watch our step. If we let ourselves be moved by these events then we will return changed. Bringing more consciousness and intentionality as we come together again, there is an opportunity for joy, connection, and healing that supports us individually and collectively. We are presented with the opportunity to rebuild ourselves, our homes, and communities with this in mind:
Together, let’s go home.