As 2009 comes to an end, I look back at all the changes it brought to so many forest dwellers. The Station Fire began modestly enough, but, like all things that cause great change, it caught everyone by surprise. I know I will never forget the snow of ash, the red air swirling around me, or the fear and amazement I felt as I fled for my life, one eye on the road ahead and the other glued to the vision of the roaring inferno behind me as it destroyed nearly everything in its path.
Since August 29, no one in the Angeles has been the same. Animals and people alike are struggling to survive. Most of us lost everything – homes, family mementos, collections, artifacts, antiques, photos… all the tangible things we held dear. Some have been able to move forward from those losses more easily than others, but none of us has had an easy time. It will take years to restore some semblance of normalcy, but I don’t think any of us will truly “recover”. How could we?
Those of us who did not lose our homes faced other challenges – living for weeks without electricity and phone service, putting out spot-fires, breathing the residual smoke and ash, and trying to cope with the horror of it all. I’ve seen that “thousand yard stare” in the eyes of my neighbors more times than I can count, and I’m pretty certain I’ve had it myself. I’ve seen it before – here in Los Angeles after the 1994 earthquake, in New Orleans after Katrina, and, of course, after 9-11.
It’s natural, this shock and daze that fogs the mind and turns everything to a neutral shade of gray. The enormity of the destruction is too much to take in, so the mind shuts down in part, preventing overload so we can survive. The trick is in facing the horror after the fact, and in dealing with the grief and the trauma while trying to put our lives back together. I won’t pretend that I’ve done a fabulous job of dealing with my own trauma. I still have flashes where it seems that everything around me is in flames, and I still have nights when I cry myself to sleep. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.
The Station Fire has also done what all disasters do. It brought out the best and the worst in people. The communities of Tujunga, La Crescenta and La Cañada rallied to help their forest-dwelling neighbors, and relief organizations stepped forward and provided aid, information and solace. Likewise, local government agencies provided help, some better than others. Where things have fallen down is where they always fall down, when human greed and small-mindedness have ruled the actions of thieves, bureaucrats, and others who could have acted to prevent or mitigate the destruction. It’s only human, I suppose, but I’m always disappointed when I see people doing stupid things to try hiding the truth, or because they are more interested in some delusional sense of their own private power scheme than in striving for the greater good.
So, the million-dollar question is, “What now?”
As the calendar changes and a new decade begins, I find myself clinging to hope. My ability to hope is not as energetic as it was several months ago, but I’m stubborn, too stubborn to let go of the notion that something better can come to pass. I cling to that hope, battered and frail as it is, because without it I couldn’t get up in the morning. The choices I face and the tasks that I have yet to achieve would be overwhelming. Like you, I’m only human after all.
So, with that Hope in mind I offer you this New Years Eve wish:
- May your troubles fade and be replaced by joy.
- May your friends surround you with love and comfort.
- May you have what you need to keep you safe and healthy.
- And may the coming year bring you happiness and love beyond your wildest dreams!
Happy New Year!