A week before a fire stormed through my hometown of Santa Rosa, CA and the surrounding area destroying 7000 homes and businesses, I attended a prescient event offered by social services. It was a disaster preparedness meeting that supplied advice on how to be prepared for an emergency. Lists of items were handed out as suggestions of what to have at the ready – a go-bag so to speak: important papers, passport, check book, insurance papers, bottled water for 5 days, a first aid kit, a wind-up solar powered radio, and more. Following that meeting, I began collecting these items and putting them in a designated place.
Four days later I was awakened in the middle of the night when the manager of the apartment complex where I live banged on my window to say we are evacuating. After taking some moments to clear my head I began to gather up the things on my checklist.
My area was under advisory evacuation; I made the decision to stay put, but at the ready until further notice. Electricity was available but internet and cell phone service were out. I had no outside contact for 4 days, except when my trusty New Dimensions team sent the police to check on me. My main information source was the radio. It brought home to me how community radio is one of the most important assets of any township. Local radio is light on its feet reporting up-to-the minute news regarding the local area. It connects us in ways not served by any other media. Several stations were broadcasting with portable generators. There is nothing that compares to having updated, life-saving information in such a challenging situation. I feel great pride in being part of the radio broadcasting tribe!
It has been a couple of weeks now and the fires are out or under control. However, living in the middle of a collective energetic wave of grief, loss, dislocation, confusion, and uncertainty is having its effect on me. Since the fire I’ve been a bit scattered and my energy has been diffused. I’m working to ground myself, and paying close special attention as I drive. I’m very aware of other drivers and how we are all not very present in this moment.
Even at that, what minor inconvenience I experienced doesn’t compare to the stories of so many who have lost so much. With the enormity of the devastation, life has been completely disrupted. Scores of businesses and people’s lives have been severely affected. On the other hand, it has been gratifying to see so many step up to be of help, and volunteering in so many ways. The outpouring of kindness has been incalculable. People are sharing and caring for each other. The air was still quite foul for over a week after the fires were managed, but kindness kept swirling about. It’s a strange phenomenon the way disaster brings out the best in us. Now we need to learn, collectively as a species, how to keep this going without the company of disasters.
All this gives me a much, much, much deeper appreciation for the extraordinary privilege it is to be living here with such an abundance of resources. I can’t help but compare our situation in Northern California with Puerto Rico, which continues to lack clean water and electricity, and whose people have limited ways to contact one another and tap into resources.
My heart is heavy when I compare their plight to all the superb coordination between agencies that has taken place here in Santa Rosa: firefighters (both ground and air), medical support, evacuation assistance, medical support, animal assistance, shelters, recovery resources just to name a few. Fire fighters showed up from as far away as Australia. This effort involved a multitude of agencies that have not previously worked together as a single team. I’m amazed and terribly proud of this community and the state of California.
The chorus I sing in is performing a benefit concert for relief work for Puerto Rico on Sunday October 29th. All the proceeds will go directly to help the people. For the occasion, we are learning the special celebratory Puerto Rican Flag song. It turns out that in 1948 there was a gag rule that made it a crime to own or display a Puerto Rican flag, to sing a patriotic tune, to speak or write of independence, or to meet with anyone or hold any assembly in favor of Puerto Rican independence. This rule lasted until 1957 when it was rescinded. Let us all keep these people in our thoughts, and prayers, and actions because their ordeal is not over.
I share this poem to honor those whose lives have been so drastically changed by recent storms, floods, and fires, in hopes that they may be supported and find peace.
– Justine Willis Toms
by Barbara Hirschfield
A piece of paper
From the sky
Amidst the ash and dirt.
The paper was part of a dictionary.
It landed by the sanctuary door.
The words defined were
And so it was,
From the tempest to the temple
From the storm of fire to the sanctuary
And on the edge of the page
Scattered over rooms and fields
The pieces of my life
Are not to be gathered
“Take your valuables,” they say.
They are scattered
They cannot be gathered.
Can all of what I care about
Fit on this memory stick?