Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I Am But One

This post.
Parts of it have been rolling in my brain since the beginning of December.
I have begun to write it umpteen times in the past two months, but always stopped.
In the beginning, it was because of the unknown.
Then it was because I felt impacted, but so very little compared to others that I almost felt guilty. 
Was I only feeling  my feelings because of the proximity to our girl and her college?
I'm sure that's what held my initial, intense focus and nonstop prayers.
Our daughter and her friends were fears and thoughts paled in comparison to those families losing everything.
What finally pushed me into sitting down and finishing was a  dream I woke up to yesterday morning.
I was in a color wheel.

Yeah...I know.
But as I slowly processed what it meant, an onion popped into my head with the words,
"You are but one layer".
And you thought the color wheel was weird!
I realized that throughout the devastation of the Thomas Fire and subsequent mudslides, we are all in this life together. 
The physical and emotional impacts may be different.
Our circumstances may be different.
But we are all part of a whole.
A whole who can work together to heal.
To begin rebuilding broken lives.
I believe it is our duty and moral obligation to help each other up when needed, hold each other up when they are unable and to offer whatever we whatever way we can.
So often a tragedy is what makes people take notice.
Once the initial trauma is over, the news trucks leave.
The general population moves on to the next thing.
Meanwhile, people who suffered through the "initial trauma" are still facing it.
In ways I cannot fathom.
As painful as things can be, I think we need to least parts.
I have popped in my favorite CDs, have my glass of water and I'm ready.
Here is goes.
Mine...and only my thoughts.
I remember hearing that a wildfire broke out near Santa Paula and Fillmore on December 4.  
Both of these places are along our path to LPP's college. 
Fillmore is also where a very special man lived, so news of the fire piqued my interest.
I wasn't concerned for our girl's safety at that time.
However, as devastating winds blew through this lovely valley toward the ocean, Thomas grew.
He scorched homes and buildings in his path and went to places we all thought were safe.
His smoke became intense miles and miles away and entered dorm rooms on LPP's campus.
Masks were issued.
By Thursday, classes has been cancelled for Thursday and Friday due to very poor air quality.  
We are so fortunate to have the house less than 2 hours up the coast and it was made available to our girl.
Her friends all had places to stay, so she packed her little truck with clothes for the weekend and off to Pismo she went to study for finals that were to begin on Monday.
But then.
Thomas continued to rage.
Toward Santa Barbara.
We watched as the evacuation map grew closer and closer to campus.
LPP watched the air in Pismo grow more and more smoke filled.

By Sunday, the  mandatory evacuation zone was adjacent to campus. 
I had been on the phone quite a bit with LPP during this and she was at the point of wishing she had packed more things and brought special things with her, while acknowledging that others had it so much worse than her.
We talked about what those items were.
She considered driving back down.
She didn't.
One of her best friends, who lives in Santa Barbara texted and said she and her Dad were heading to campus to get things for herself and offered to grab anything our girl wanted.
With the mental list complete, she shared it with Miss A.
These are from the photos that her Dad took that afternoon.

In addition to gathering the few items, she also took the time to unplug the fridge.  
Sweet girl.

 Shortly after this on Sunday, December 10, the evacuation zone grew to include Westmont.

Finals on campus were cancelled.
Our girl drove home.
For the next 5 days, I watched the press conferences.
I read Westmont's 2-3 time daily updates.
LPP finished the online finals she was required to take and felt happy with those classes that didn't require one.
And we  prayed.
Westmont has its own Fire Brigade as well as being one of the bases of operation for Cal Fire and USFS men and women. 

  My dad recounts his time as a firefighter using Westmont as a base of operation in the past, as well. 
Full circle stuff.
The campus post office had been cleaned out and all of the boxes forwarded.
It was strange to receive the box I had just filled with CARE packages and Christmas gifts for LPP's friends back at our house.
It was a kind thing to do, though.
During this week, firefighters were able to make tremendous and vital preparations in case the fire moved closer.
Montecito is a community that is filled with tall, lush trees and bushes. 
And winding roads.
  I have missed proper turns many times in the past three years.
With so many crews from other counties and states, this prep time was priceless. 
They marked mailboxes where pools were.
They knew how to get from Point A to Point B.
They worked hard as they always do.
This week was also when they lost one of their own.
I can't imagine.

With evacuations inching closer and closer to Santa Barbara proper and the air quality deteriorating, Miss A and her family left their home in the city to spend days with family near us. 
This also meant that Miss A came to visit and spend a night with our girl. 
She brought the items  gathered from LPP's dorm.
May I say that I was thrilled when I saw my Dad's fire bag enter the house.
I'm easily touched and moved.

And then December 16.

The day that the fire had grown to the ridge behind campus.
I sat glued to the computer watching the news coverage from Santa Barbara.
I watched fire trucks stationed on roads I knew.
I read when there was fire in the area between faculty housing and the library.
I wept when the campus fire brigade was ordered to shelter in place in the gym.

I wept for the fire fighters and their families.
I wept for the families in this monster's path.
And I wept because my girl was mere feet from me.
As the day turned into Sunday, things looked better for campus. 
While not out of the woods, winds were dying down and the firefighters were beginning to gain an upper hand in problematic areas. 
At this point this fire was 259,000 acres and only 40% contained and had been raging for 12 days!
The following day, a Westmont Professor went to campus and documented what he saw.
I'm not sure if you can see this video or not, but no buildings were came close, but the firefighters fought hard and won this particular fight.

While evacuation orders were being lifted on December 21st, the campus remained closed until the first week of January in order to install new air filtration systems and make certain all was safe for students.
At this point, any thoughts of going back over before Christmas to get clothing and such for LPP, were put to rest. 
We went shopping instead.  
We also spent time together as a family and enjoyed Christmas and a quick New Year's getaway.  

On January 4th...exactly 1 month after the fire began, LPP and I headed back to Santa Barbara.
Driving through Fillmore, I was in awe of the burn line on the mountain surrounding the town and the fact that that the town still stood.
The groves of avocados and citrus shine bright and green just under blackness. 
It wasn't until later that I realized this is where the firefighter was trapped and lost his life.
  It is even more heartbreaking. 
As we passed through Ventura, Carpenteria, Summerland and Montecito signs thanking the firefighters were everywhere. 
Hanging on over passes.
Tied to fences and street signs.
Exiting the freeway, this Coast Village Road sign was decked out it Christmas bows and a thank you sign.
I didn't take this picture as I was driving, but it moved me.

As we approached campus, more signs were seen on homes' gates and fences. 

I DID take this gem.
My girl was with me at the time and laughed at me.
I got flustered at a stop sign and missed most of the gratitude.
These residents know what had been at stake and appreciated those who were able to keep Thomas at bay in their neck of the woods.
Arriving on campus, our intent was to take her bedding and clothing to Pismo and wash everything.
We were set to wash and clean the dorm room from any trace of smoke.
There was none.
No smell.
No ash.
It was such a lovely surprise and welcome relief.  
As we wandered through the campus, it was moving to see just how close Thomas came.
This building is where LPP lived her freshman year.

I also took a reminder that life is precious.
Before I left for home that Friday, we got to have lunch with Miss A and I got to meet her parents. 
We had a terrific visit and I am so happy they are in our daughter's life. 
I look forward to more visits with them.
I drove home, LPP met her obligations before classes began for the semester on Monday.
The authorities in Santa Barbara County had issued maps and evacuation information to due to an impending storm coming that night.
We were watching and praying again.
I don't think anyone could have imagined what was to follow.
  More than half an inch of rain in 5 minutes.
As we all know, that was just the beginning. 
I got up around 4:00am to check the news.
In the darkness, only the beginnings of what had occurred was being discovered.
I only left to take and pick up our youngest from school.
At first, no one really knew the extent.  
Morning classes were cancelled to give staff time to get to campus since streets were blocked.
All classes cancelled.

The campus was again under mandatory evacuation by the following day at noon.
Again, thankfully, the beach house was made available for LPP.
This time, she took three friends.
Where they stayed 6 days.
While the campus was not in danger, the supply of water was. 
As were other services.
As the  hours clicked by, I found myself glued to the computer.
Praying for miracles.
In utter disbelief to what I was watching.
The exit I had taken and the sign I had been inspired by 4 days before.
The changed landscape that fire and rain  caused.

While we are not members of the Montecito community physically, I do feel that being part of Westmont's Community, we are connected by default. 
Many of the people living in this town are not the high power celebrities we usually think of.
They are families like mine. 
They have children they are raising in homes that are just homes.
They are elderly, retired couples who have lived in these hills for decades. 
They are landscapers and housekeepers. 
They are people.
They are people who have had the ground, quite literally, ripped out from beneath their feet. 
So what now?
What to do?
There are groups who scour the beaches and post items discovered here to help reunite with the owners. 
Every item must seem so precious.
There is a pop up shop that formed and offers new clothing, free of charge to those displaced. 
It is run by volunteers and shifts are available.
I felt so helpless, and still feel inadequate, but I believe that even the smallest thing can make a difference. 
SPF selected a gift to send to a little girl who lost her home along with a handwritten note.

We sent a gift card through the same group to be given to a family in desperate need.
I believe that families in the midst of this will gain strength and hope by knowing so many are praying for them.
LPP delivered water to the fire station and went to give blood.
I am in the process of becoming an American Red Cross Volunteer.
And we can listen.
Listen to the stories people have to share.
Listen to the first responders.
Those who survived and those whose stories are being told by those left behind.
Remember the mother raising three daughters and lost two of them.
The two brothers who survived with injuries but lost their wives and three children.
The mother and daughter-in-law who lost their husbands, son and small children when they went to work the nightshift at the local grocery store.
The firefighter who literally gave the clothes on her back to a lady after she had jump from her burning home.
She also carried the lady to safety.
There is healing in the speaking and in the being heard.
While we may not have a personal connection to this disaster, I know we are all part of the healing process.
We are but one layer and with all the layers working together
(or the colors on my dreamscape color wheel)
we can help others become mostly whole again.
I pray.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very moving story. Well written.