Thank You to My Everyday Heroes (Phoenix in the Fire)

“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

-Gandalf

The fires are still burning; the west is still awash in flames and blackened embers. And yet, with this devastation, a phoenix was born, rising from the ashes that fell from our skies. I have found hope and love in a world that has gone dark. I found a common urgency for kindness and community as our fears grew. Yes, the fires still burn, and yet our hope has not been extinguished.

California, Oregon, Washington, Montana; all are ablaze and in desperate need of help. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the acreage lost to the actively burning fires stands at 1,652,402- and this number continues to grow every day. That’s not the total for the year thus far; that is simply the large scale fires that are still burning.

I’m in the Pacific Northwest where we are still fighting the Eagle Creek fire on the Oregon side, which has consumed over 33,000 acres of land in the scenic Gorge area. I have friends who were evacuated from their homes a week ago and don’t know when they will ever be able to return. My dad’s house was threatened by a spot fire that erupted when an ember flew from Eagle Creek and landed on the Washington side of the Columbia River. It landed on the same night my dad stayed awake with a hose protecting his home from the embers that fell where he lived. Archer mountain, 4 miles from my childhood home, was dry as a bone and lit up the sky. It’s still burning. It’s tiny in comparison to Eagle Creek; a mere 209 acres at the last update. But it was in my backyard, and when your neighborhoods are being threatened; it doesn’t matter how small that threat may appear; it’s still a natural entity that has more than enough power to consume and destroy everything you care about.

That first day was terrifying; the fire kept growing, the evacuation alerts kept coming, and the damn wind would not stop blowing. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of the fire itself barging down the door- I was afraid of the live embers that were dancing through the air for miles around and erupting into spot fires where they landed. I was terrified of losing my neighborhood, the place that stored all of my fondest memories of the world when it was far less complicated. I was scared of losing my childhood home; the only place that ever truly made me feel like I belonged in it. But most of all, I was petrified because my dad is stubborn as hell, knows enough about fires to be confident (he’s worked for the fire department for over 30 years), and he didn’t want to leave his home. He lives at the end of a dead-end street out in the middle of nowhere; and if the fire came, it’s projected route would cut off his only exit if he hesitated too long.

There’s something insidious in the simple fact that there are situations where you will have no control. There is something poisonous in the knowledge that for those life-altering moments, you might only have enough power to watch the news reports, to follow the weather and pray. This is something our poor friends in Texas and Florida know well. You might have to go to work and explain to your boss why you can’t really concentrate and why you are checking your phone every five minutes, or why you are jumping at unexpected noises- you will explain that you set up evacuation alerts to let you know if your dad needs to leave his home- to let you know that you need to make him leave. That powerless feeling; it burrows deep into your soul; you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you can’t think or talk about anything else. You function under the sole motivation to collect more information. Because collecting is the only thing you can do. It’s a cruel twist of fate for us humans who have a deep desire to play the puppet-master of our own lives. So you pray- you pray to anything and everything you have ever believed in. Because what else will you do?

We’ve had good news this week; our first responders are amazing- there are truly no words for the appreciation and love we all feel towards them right now. They have been everything; our sun, our moon, our stars. They remind me why we all wanted to be like them when we were little; they remind me why heroes claim the name that they do. They saved our homes, they saved this little community of ours. They dug in their heels, they gritted their teeth and they fought with every ounce of energy they possessed. They fell asleep where they sat- for only a few hours before getting up and doing it all over again. It’s because of them that my friends still have their homes. It’s because of them that my dad’s home is still here. It was their hard work that allowed a young mother to finally bring her children back home after their evacuation alert was lowered. It’s because of them that I can finally start to breathe a little bit easier. The fire has grown; but they held the line and ensured that it didn’t grow towards our homes. Since the last time I wrote, they’ve managed to reach 15% containment on Archer Mountain. That’s pretty amazing, given the terrain and less than ideal weather. They’ve been stretched so thin that there are fire burning in our state without crews attached to them- because they can’t afford to sacrifice the resources. They’ve been here fighting for us instead.

There was a shift in the wind that was good for my little piece of the Gorge; but bad for my friends across the river. They have just shy of 1,000 firefighters on their side, including several hotshot teams (think navy seals of the firefighting world), over 100 engines and a small fleet of helicopters; they sit at 7% contained, and expect to be fighting this blaze through October at least. They’ve done an amazing job; over 33,000 acres, and only 3 homes lost. I know I say that like it’s nothing, but I can feel the shot through my heart with those words. 3 homes; 3 homes like mine full of memories and beloved items; a symbol for your life, a safe place that you will struggle to find again. Every loss hurts. Because we’re all here enduring this together; every loss is a reminder that all it takes is a change in the wind or an errant ember to drastically alter our fates and the lots of the things we love. We walk a hairs width out here, but we walk it together. And we have the bravest warriors to protect us. I say only 3 because without these brace souls with their spot-streaked faces, we would have lost entire towns. They did that for us.

There is something that arises from the darkness that we endure; there is a quality in all of us that only seems to show in these moments of distress. While there are still some who will take advantage of the darkness, ones who will do horrible things; like stealing the vehicles and gear of our firefighters- these lost souls are rare. Most people come together, remembering what is important at the end of the day. All of our differences and disagreements fall away. None of it matters anymore when you walk into your personal hell, you cling to anyone near you; even if you were shooting daggers at one another the day before. The world has gone on around us; the news reminds me everyday of the battles we are all waging, the ideologies we are fighting for, the hopes that we cling to. But for just a moment; those things don’t matter- they do- but, our different don’t matter. People don’t ask you who you voted for when you are reaching out for help. They don’t wonder what you posted on Facebook an hour ago, unless you were begging for an update on a loved one, or looking for a place to stay the night. My daily interactions now include people asking and volunteering information about themselves, their homes and their families. It’s found in the traditionally cut-throat litigators at work asking for a continuance on their case because opposing counsel has been focused on protecting his family and his home, which are on level 2 evacuation notices (level 2 means ‘get set’ and be ready for level 3- 3 means go now).

I found hope in places I didn’t expect it, from people I didn’t necessarily see as being as selfless as they were. This is probably a flaw of mine that I need to work on. On the first day a girl I knew who wouldn’t be caught dead out of her designer clothes and makeup was driving up and down the evacuation zones helping people get their livestock to safety. Neighbors would show up to help each other with trailers in tow. So many items were donated that they were running out of places to store them. At some sites simple things like coffee turned into gold. Businesses offered free food to emergency responders and those displaced. People you hadn’t talked to in nearly a decade would reach and ask how you were- because they remember where your parents lived when you were friends back in school. Strangers spoke words of comfort and compassion to me; they shared the stories of those impacted and brought an overlooked issue to people’s attention. I will forever be grateful. People cared. People helped. And they still are.

It’s just like what we saw with Harvey; when it mattered, we showed up. We reminded each other what we are truly about. When everything is done, I am sure we will go back to squabbling about politics and debating lifestyle choices and generally causing discontent on social media. But there will still be this experience between us; these common things that we endured together. We will still remember those unexpected heroes who showed up when we were in need, the ones that remembered where we were from and took the time to listen when we were scared. Personally, I will try to remember that most people are made of tougher stuff than I realized. We found a small patch of common ground; it might be burnt, and blackened, but it is still our ground, it is still the path we have walked together.

Tonight I pray for everyone who’s struggling, who’s fighting, who’s scared. Tonight I pray for our first responders and our everyday heroes who just showed up. I pray for the west with our fires, for Texas who has a long road to recovery, and for everyone being impacted by Irma. I pray for India and the flooding they’ve been fighting. We might be facing different foes; but it’s the same battle. No matter how far apart we are, no matter what we each believe; we are all in this together. We are stronger when we stand as one, when we reach out, when we put our differences aside and look at each other as humans. I will never turn away, I’m still watching, and when the moment comes- my hand will be reaching out to help you the way others have helped me. Thank God for these everyday heroes; they are the best we could ever hope to become. I strive everyday to live up to what they do.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Right now I am sitting bundled up in blankets in my little office (I use this term loosely, as this little room doubles as my impromptu living room and occasional dining area- I live small). We put up our own strand of white christmas lights around the single window, and we are both working by their comforting soft glow tonight. There is a chill in the air and talk of snow next week. Yesterday at my dentist’s office we listened to all of those old holiday favorites everyone can sing along to. And tomorrow morning I have a date with my mom and sister to bake (hopefully) delicious holiday treats. It seems this year ran away with me before I could take a second to enjoy the scenery. 

It is the time of year for thankfulness and small acts of kindness. A time to remember all that we have and make sure those in our lives know their importance. I can occasionally appear to be a cynic (I prefer the term realist) on the outside, but inside I have always been a hopeless romantic who falls head over heels in love with this time of year. As cliche as it sounds, it isn’t about the bows and shiny wrapping paper. It’s not even about the twinkling lights and eggnog. What I love about this season can only be found in the smallest of moments.

It’s in the way my sister’s eyes light up when she finds the perfect Christmas tree. Even at 25, the magic is never lost on her. We will tramp through the lines and lines of trees, scrutinizing every detail until our noses are as red as cherries and we can’t feel our toes. And then she spots it. She grins like she did when we were kids and she stole my first dollhouse. We make our way back with our prize slung carefully over our shoulders and warm up over hot apple cider and rice crispy treats. And then onward home to trim the little beauty in all its glory. That’s why I love this holiday- because it puts a smile on the face of a girl who doesn’t catch many breaks the rest of the year.

It’s in the way I can dance in my car on the way to work and not even feel silly (I strongly suggest Jim Carey’s The Grinch soundtrack for this activity). It’s in the pay it forward coffees as Starbucks. It’s in the excited way my nephews tell me all about their letters to Santa or proudly hold out their freshly cut paper snowflakes. It’s in the midnight snowball fights on the front yard (in which Zach will, at some point, drop some down the back of my shirt). It’s in the small little thoughts of coworkers who try to make the office a little bit brighter. It’s in the way we all speak to one another a little more kindly, smile a little broader, listen a little bit longer when we ask how the other is. It’s in the calming twinkling of those beautiful lights that dance across our faces on late night walks with the dog, all bundled up with gloves and scarves.

There is a magic to this season that is unparalleled. When you stop to enjoy the life that it breathes into a soul during these dreary winter days. There is a warmth to it that you won’t find come January or February. It’s unique, it’s comforting, it’s a hopeful conclusion to a long and busy year, holding delicately a promise for the year to come.

Welcome back, my dear, sweet holiday season. This year, may we remember what is truly important and learn to find some common ground. May we bring one another smiles and friendship without ill intentions. It is the time of year for openness and hopeful endeavors. My friends, may you find all of the love and promise that you had hoped for this season, may you rediscover the childhood joy that still sleeps within, and may you embrace the simplistic beauty that surrounds us. This year, may we find comfort building bridges to one another instead of constructing walls to hide behind. May we remember who we once were and who we still hope to become. Cheers, my dearest friends. May we all embrace this magic and hold true to the true meaning that breathes life back into our weary souls.

Shrodinger’s Election (it’s almost over)

I didn’t think this election season would ever end, but alas, here we are on that illustrious Tuesday that will determine the road we will take from here. Now, don’t worry, I’m not about to start pelting you with my political opinions and assail you with how ours might not align perfectly. We are all entitled to our individual opinions, and while we might be strongly opposed, we must respect one another’s right to maintain their respective stance.

I believe tonight’s election will be telling, though I am fearful. Partially fearful for the results, but more so for the reactions to these results. I have never seen our country as divided and charged as we were this year, and I will openly admit that I am worried how some will respond if their candidate is not chosen. After an election season that consisted of more mud slinging than general debate and more debasement than productive conversation, I can only hope that we will take these lessons we have learned and use them to better ourselves. It’s no secret that this election has been a royal mess- one played out on an international level. However, in spite of all of the name-calling and general embarrassment, one thing has happened: people have been forced to start those difficult conversations we have been avoiding. And while we might not like everything that has been said, it is a genuine step forward that the words have been spoken at all. Now we must take this momentum and use it to move forward. We must remember our compassion and find our respect again. We must remind ourselves that we have to come together if we ever want to make progress. We must remember that there is a time to speak and a time to listen. 

No matter the outcome, I can only hope that we have learned something that will serve us well in the future. This is our country, these are our responsibilities. Cheers, my friends, may we find peace and progress in the coming months. (I know- a girl can dream).

I dream of a world…

My dreams are not big or luxurious. I dream of a world where I can walk into a shopping mall, a movie theater, a school, or even my own place of work and not worry about an irate person carrying a weapon and a vendetta inside, hoping to make the nightly news in their final blaze of glory. I dream of a world where I do not have to listen and watch my surroundings as I walk to my car, searching for a hidden threat. I dream of a world where I can turn on the news and not hear about another bombing, another attack, another murder; more death, more pain, more heartache. I dream of a world where the length of my skirt does not measure my worth or the level of respect others give me. I dream of a world where no means no. I dream of a world where the color of your skin or your nation of origin is a mere cliff-note, and not the cover of your book, to be judged and tossed away. I dream of a world where a helping hand is a given, not a political opporitunity to stand on a soap box and point fingers. I dream of a world where someone asks you how you are doing- and waits to hear the answer. I dream of a world full of common courtesy and, dare I say, compassion.

I know that these ideals are the simplest and most complex wishes a person can have. Their solutions seem so straightforward, a child could figure it out, could see the flaws in our system. But alas, we are not children, and we have shaded this world is colors that they cannot see. We forgot the lessons our parents taught us when we were small; perhaps they forgot them too. We always say that the world is just too complicated- but perhaps we are the ones making it that way.

We tell ourselves that we are just one person, and as such, we cannot make a difference. But we are diluting ourselves, pointing the finger at anyone else, anyone but us. Because taking responsibility is not in our nature. We are just one person- we did not make the world turn into such an ugly place, we just live in it. It’s a cop out, an escape hatch, a way to turn the other cheek. If we want to see a change, we have to start small, we have to take a long look inside and realize the type of people that we have become. We have to recognize our biases and prejudices, those knee-jerk thoughts and judgments that come to us without thought. We are not saints, we all have them, we have too many life experiences not to. But that doesn’t make them right.

It starts with instrospection, with self-awareness, with a realization of why we are the way that we are. It builds with a change; with a simple respect, with that age-old piece of wisdom: treat others as you wish to be treated. It crescendos into action; in speaking up for someone without a voice, in asking how they are, in reaching our your hand to pull someone else in.

The world may be a dark place sometimes, but we do not have to dress to match. We do not have to change, to become bitter imbattled versions of those bright happy people we once were. The world may be a complicated place, but we do not have to be. Kindness begets kindness, a smile is more often met with a smile. A soft word is more respected than a harsh one.

I am not naïve, I know that my dreams will probably always remain dreams. I know that I will continue to reverently walk by the memorial in a mall near my home where three people lost their lives in a shooting four years ago. I know I’ll always wonder if the other shoe will drop, if I’ll find myself in the same position, running from the sounds of a rifle in what should be a safe place. I know my heart will ache every time I hear about another active shooter, another bombing, another death. I know that I will cry interally everytime I am in a room and people are asked to raise their hands if they have been a victim of sexual assault or rape. Because all too often there are more hands up in the air than those laying flat. I know that I will always walk briskly to my car, ears listening for footfalls that come too close, eyes scanning for suspicious people or vehicles, fingers gripped tightly around my keys- just in case. I know that I will always dress in a certain way to keep people from staring, to keep them from talking. I will avoid certain situations because trust is a hard commodity to find.

But I wont stop dreaming about a world where these do not have to be my realities. I will continue to find hope in those few people who ask me how I am doing and wait to hear the answer. I will find comfort in the smiles of a stranger. I will keep speaking my mind when it matters, and listening when someone needs to talk. I will keep trying. I will keep hoping, I will keep dreaming. Because some dreams are too important to let die.

Be Our Own Heroes: Spread Hope

They say that anger is just love disappointed.
They say that love is just a state of mind.
But all this fighting over who is anointed,
Oh, how can people be so blind?

There’s a hole in the world tonight.
There’s a cloud of fear and sorrow.
There’s a hole in the world tonight.
Don’t let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.

-The Eagles

Tonight we are unified in mutual pain; all of us bleed for the lives cut too short, all of us cry for a world that can never be what it was yesterday. We are the same, and we are different for our losses. Where is our hero tonight? Where is our modern day MLK to tout the evils of violence and lead us towards a better tomorrow? Who will save us from this mess we have made? How many scars can we etch into our own hearts before we stop feeling the pain? How many times can we tear one another apart before there is nothing left to save? We are angry, we are afraid, and we are hurting.

I wont pretend to understand, I know that I never will. There are shoes I have never walked in, there are worlds out there that I have never seen. I cannot say that I understand what it means to fear because of the color of my skin. I cannot say that I know what it’s like to carry the pressures of a badge and be forced to make life or death decisions in the blink of an eye. I know that hindsight is 20/20, and we have all been blind. I know that none of this should have ever happened. I know that some people have prejudices in them, and I know that some people make the wrong decisions at the worst times. I know that the world is not so simple as to be categorized into good and evil. We are not angels and demons; we are simply humans.

We want to let the anger overpower the pain so that we don’t have to feel it anymore. We want explanations, a reason, an enemy. We want to find a villain in these stories, someone to blame, to focus our hatred on. We are so busy pointing the finger that we forget what the real enemy is. It is not black culture, white culture, or the power of the police. The true enemy is hate. Hate is the explosive expression of fear and anger. We are not each other’s enemies, we do not have to be.

We distance ourselves from the problem by talking in generalities, we jump to conclusions based on cursory facts. We forget that these instances are about real people. We forget that there are two sides to every story. Does racism still exist? Yes. Do prejudices against the police? Yes. We keep taking large swaths of people and painting them with one brush instead of looking at them individually. It’s harder to hate when you look at a person, not an abstract idea. These problems that we have will not be erased in large sweeping gestures. This is a battle fought one small moment at a time. We have to stop categorizing one another and simply view each other as people. We have to learn to be kind again.

There will be no knight in shining armor coming to save the day. We have to do the saving. We have to start the painful conversations to stop the violence. We have to be willing to take a step out of our own shoes and look at the world from a differing perspective. We have to re-humanize one another. It will be the little actions that save us; asking someone how they are- how they really are- and waiting to hear the answer. It is about giving a simple nod of recognition when you pass someone in the store. It is about helping someone in need, it is about standing up for those who cannot do it themselves. It is about protecting one another. It is in these moments, when we are connecting, that we are the most human. It is in these moments that we will find our hope.

Most of us are not hateful, most of us are just tired. We are exhausted from the violence, and truthfully- we are scared. But we are not alone. We are all in this together. United we stand, divided we will fall. So here is the challenge: go out and show the world some kindness. Remind one another that the world is not always an ugly place- it will forever be what we make of it. Expand your horizons, speak to someone you don’t know- connect with a culture you don’t understand. Or simply give a smile to someone who looks like they need it.  Remind everyone that the world is beautiful. Spread hope instead of despair.