Join Our Mailing List
By Dianne Armitage
Man, what a month it has been! As I write this column we are on the cusp of December. I’ve just spent four days celebrating Thanksgiving – and the fact that I don’t have to view one more campaign ad! Talk about thankful!
Here in Santa Barbara we’ve just survived the Tea Fire. By the time it was contained, 1940 acres had burned destroying 230 residences. As a breast cancer survivor I sometimes forget there are other disasters that can befall someone that can leave them feeling just as vulnerable and helpless as anyone suffering from a disease! I further discovered that someone who has conquered cancer can find themselves evacuating as fire roars ever closer to their home!
A friend at work brought me something written (and spoken) by a woman who goes to her church, Tricia Backelin. I am reprising just an excerpt from it here, because her clarity and message are so moving, I just have to share them:
My daughter and I had about half an hour to go through our house and decide what comes with us and what stays behind. And we were among the lucky ones; we got to make that decision. Many did not have the luxury of a last look. And you know, as I stood there in the living room looking at all the tchotchkes, I had the strangest thought. I thought, “Thank God I’ve had cancer.” If there is one gift that devouring disease gave me, it is the ability to distinguish what is important in my life from what is not. Trauma has a way of clearing up those two categories, doesn’t it? One list gets very, very short, very, very fast. So, as flames shot up into the clear night sky — seemingly at the end of our block — it was abundantly clear that what I stood looking at was just a bunch of stuff. Ballast. Dead weight meant to keep the ship stable, but on dry land serves mainly just to weigh us down. With my daughter’s precious hand firmly in mine, I knew I had all I needed.
And then the phone rang. Linda offering her place as a refuge. Then Julia, and Laurie. Thirty-nine Trinity families have offered their homes for people displaced by the fire… And thus we are lifted up. The ballast drops away and what is important holds us by the hand and lifts us up.
Now, I have had the exquisite experience of being held, tenderly, in the palm of your prayers… but this is a gift no one wants. No one wants cancer, or to loose their home or their possessions, or to plumb – in any number of ways – the depths of pain the human heart can hold. We don’t wish these circumstances on anyone. But as someone who has fallen off my own personal cliff into my own personal abyss, I can attest to the steely strength of the safety net of Love that emanates from this place. But trying to describe the uplifting sense of what it is like to be prayed for, week after week, is like trying to describe a Michelangelo using only barnyard sounds. Let me just say to those who may now face new depths of their own, there is help here. There is Love here. Lean into it — let it support you. Let us pray for you.
Okay, if you still have dry eyes, let me know your secret! When I first read this piece I was so overwhelmed by her voice I could hardly breath. And then, because I am human, I had a moment of feeling like nothing I’ve ever written was worth a darn when faced with her eloquence. I was relieved to discover she is a professional writer, because otherwise I would have had to throw a blanket over my head and change professions.
While I was emailing Tricia’s piece to friends and family I learned that a close friend (and former roommate) had lost her home to the fire. Laurie MacMillan and I shared a house with another young woman back when we were silly and single. I remain silly to this day, but Laurie is one of those people who actually seemed to grow up. She even has her own website, and as I learned when I visited there, she is an abstract expressionist. I was so self absorbed back in the days when we cohabitated, I didn’t even realize she had an artistic bone in her body. I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, we were all in our late 20s and spent most of our time trying to meet guys rather than paying attention to what would later prove to be much more important matters!
I’ve had the good luck to remain friends with many of the women I knew when I was in my 20s. So when we heard about Laurie’s bad luck, it was time to circle the wagons and get together for a lunch. We were all thankful that Laurie agreed to meet us – because we all knew she probably had far more pressing things she could be doing with her time.
When I saw her I was surprised by the emotions I felt. I couldn’t help but weep for her loss. I guess it was one of those moments where I truly could put myself into someone else’s shoes (or lack thereof). Most of us can imagine what it would feel like to lose everything we cherish – or perhaps more accurately – we can’t imagine having it happen so we really empathize on a grand scale.
Laurie filled us in on how they’d only had 45 minutes to gather as much stuff as they could before they had to flee. She was upset because the reverse 911 everyone had been talking about certainly had not worked for them – the only way they knew the fire was approaching was because they saw flames on the surrounding hillsides. Thankfully, the fire occurred around 5:30 in the evening, so people were not caught unawares as they slept!
She told us how they gathered some of their prized possessions (she made sure to grab her jewelry!) and any valuables they were able to toss in the car. She was able to save a few of her paintings, but most perished in the fire. She lamented that she would now have to look at pictures on her website if she wanted to see most of them.
She showed us pictures of the ruins that had once been her home, and I was struck by the devastation. It looked like a bomb had hit. The mood was pretty somber as each of us tried to comfort her and assure her that if she needed anything, all she had to do was ask. Laurie, like Tricia Backelin, said that complete strangers were offering any assistance she might need. I found myself feeling grateful to live in a community where people still pitch in and help those in need.
Then she told us something profoundly ironic. She and her husband Thad have had an old Toyota Corolla they’ve been trying to get rid of for years. When they went back to sift through the ashes of what had been their house, she was amazed to find the Corolla sitting in their driveway completely unharmed. She said it was as though the fire had simply jumped over the car and continued on its way. We all shook our heads in amazement and murmured that God must have quite a sense of humor.
She then went on to say “Well, at least there’s one good thing that’s come out of all this – we surely won’t have the problem with rodents we did before the fire! They’ve been a real problem for the past few years – and the population just seemed to be exploding.”
At which point the silly me had to tell her “Don’t get too excited, they’re probably in the Corolla!” We all laughed until we cried (which felt much better than just crying) – and then Laurie gave me one of those priceless gifts friends tend to send our way by telling me – I haven’t laughed this hard since you brought a head of lettuce to the potluck dinner – I just knew you’d make me feel better!