I write this from a place of comfort, privilege, and safety. I am far more fortunate than so many right now.
And yet I feel compelled to write about the human experience of being touched by fire.
For over a year I have been consumed with rage and fear over a Presidency that goes against my core beliefs of liberty and civil rights; freedom and justice. It is these values that my grandparents fled Eastern Europe to find in America.
I have felt so frustrated that I could not reach the President. I posted on Facebook and increased my Twitter presence. I wrote articles. I made videos. I sang. I wrote some more. I cried. I protested. Why didn’t he hear me?
And then the weather shifted. Literally. Global warming or not, the fires came to my home which I purchased this year in Ojai. The fire hit our property line at 9 pm last night. We were in the active burn. On the map. In the middle of the burn.
Our cat sitter grabbed the cat and evacuated. She spent the night in a motel two hours north of where I am with 4 dogs, her 3 kids and her mom. And my 15 pound lion of a cat in a crate. I need that cat. The fire crew couldn’t get into Ojai and we couldn’t get any information about our home or the historic town, now possibly gone.
The air was thick with the potential for destruction, which only fire knows, and with an environmental process of flames which I cannot now comprehend. God only understands the ways of nature and flames and wind and heat. Science is the only rule now – not humanity or compassion or fear or even love. The laws of science are strong. They are powerful. They know more than we ever can.
And we are powerless over them.
We predict. We chart. We pray. It’s laughable, really: we pray as if collective wishing and devotion could stop science. Mighty and omnipotent and violent and vengeful. Kind and gentle and sweet and tender. It is all out of our control.
This home provides safety and peace. It gave me love; this home is where a cat named Seaweed became my responsibility. This house and the decision to take it on helped me grow up – I took on responsibility in new ways and I acted independently and bravely. I grew up. And the fear that it was being torn down left me numb.
Attachment. Suffering. Attachment leads to suffering. If only I did not care so much, I could lose it all and not care. I think of all of the things I have been attached to which caused suffering and grief because of that loss: my father. My beloved cat Esau who died a year ago. My brother-in-law. Lovers. If I could not be attached, I could lose them all and not care. I could let. It. Go.
“When you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.” Bob Dylan said that. It has never been so true as it is now. It’s not that I have nothing. It’s that if you don’t have things, you can’t feel the loss of losing them.
Now this sense of fear has become a part of me. I join thousands of people right now experiencing these fears. And millions in the world. Even though my home has been spared, I feel tied to everyone who has lost a home now even though our situations may be different in significant ways.
I feel it the way I felt I understood mothers when I pushed a child from my womb. I feel it the way I understand women who get divorced because I have felt that pain. And I feel it the way I understand people who lost a parent with whom they had a complicated relationship. I get it.
And mostly I feel guilty that my house is okay. And that even if it wasn’t, that I have another place to keep me safe. And even if I didn’t, I could get another house. And some people can’t. And that breaks my heart. So I feel guilty even writing this.
We collect experiences in life, and each is an opportunity to connect to others. To lend a hand. To support someone. To offer your love. To be patient. To feel.
The Jewish mystics hold that the world was created as a microcosmic relational system whereby God gets close to us by forcing us to get close to each other. We learn how to relate to Divinity by learning to relate to people.
What will you do today? What will I do today? Will it be Divine? Will it be out of this world? Out of your current understanding of your capacity? Can you do it?
Even if you don’t believe in God, for the love of this planet, believe in Something bigger than you. Because it is only then that we can persevere through times of challenge, surpass our current existence and excel. We can help others. We can volunteer. We can donate money. We can save a pet. We can say hello to someone who never gets greeted. We can do it.
Let’s show the non-believers that we can. Because we understand each other. Because we want to. Because when fires are burning, or even after they are contained, there is nothing else to do.