Fire has always been a positive and beautiful element in my life. I love the little dancing flame on a candle and was forever ruining my mom’s candles because the wax was so fun to play with. Growing up, a fireplace was our singular source of heat in our foothill home. Many winter days started and ended with cozying up to the fireplace. Going camping and getting to sit around the fire at night was the best way to spend a summer night. Fire is the perfect blend of useful and beautiful. Even after evacuating our home when I was 9 for a forest fire threatening our little mountain town, fire never scared me. I had respect for it, but not fear.
Last month I woke up early on Thursday, November 8th and drove my sick kitty to the vet across town. The sky was a bizarre dirty color and it looked like fire in the distance, but not too bad and certainly not close. I was more concerned about my little fluff ball than a distant burn. After settling my sick kitty at the vet, I came back outside and saw that the sky was starting to look apocalyptic and it was starting to worry me. When I returned home, a neighbor stopped me to chat and said that having been a wildland firefighter for decades, he was very concerned about what he was seeing. That jolted me out of my little world and I started making calls. My first call was to my friend M, who I knew had a great fear of fire which had only increased with the recent devastating Carr Fire in Redding, CA earlier this year. She was already packing to evacuate. She sounded frazzled but focused so I encouraged her to hurry up and only get the important stuff. M could see the sky changing and knew she would need to leave very soon. She was frightened because she was by herself as her husband was out of town. In talking about it later, I found out that she doesn’t even remember our conversation because her anxiety level was so high. When M and I hung up, I immediately called Gayle, our Chapter President, my long time treasured friend, and adopted extra mom figure. No answer. I called again, no answer. Eventually, we got to talk, and she had a plan and was already packing. I was satisfied that these 2 of my loved ones were going to be safe, so I returned to getting ready for the day and worrying about my sick kitty. I called my partner and we discussed the situation. Plenty of his coworkers were getting notices that their homes were in the rapidly expanding evacuation area and people all over were starting to get frantic.
As the fire burned my friends’ homes, and my sick kitty got worse over the next day, our whole town shut down. Businesses closed, people were trying to find places to stay and missing loved ones. Everyone was glued to the TV and social media trying to get new information and find out where their friends were. I was in constant contact with a friend who’s husband and young son were missing for too many hours. The next week is a little blurry in my memory as I grieved for my kitty who didn’t make it and all the other pets and people who were trapped by the fire. Concentrating on anything that wasn’t fire related seemed ridiculous. Did a world outside of what was happening in Butte County still exist? I saw the most incredible examples of generosity and kindness. People donated time, money, a HUGE amount of items, and opened up their homes to evacuees. My friend found her husband and son and their family came to stay at our house until they found out if they still had a home. Volunteers poured into our town and the surrounding areas to set up shelters, bring in equipment, crews, and supplies. My own parents still have people staying with them and on their property, and likely will continue to for some time. Now as I look around, I see people struggling. People who lost their homes struggling to find a new home or a temporary home until theirs can be repaired/rebuilt. People struggling to find jobs. People struggling to agree on how to best clean up and rebuild. People struggling to deal with the population increase and all that comes with it. People struggling to put on a brave face for work. I have seen people crying in the middle of the grocery store, people having meltdowns on the phone as their insurance adjuster gives them more bad news, parents struggling to calm their children who have lost all sense of stability. People struggling to feel “in the holiday spirit”. I see students struggling to deal with the class interruptions and worrying about being able to graduate this year. I have seen first responders struggling to help us in the best ways they know. So many people struggling to wrap their minds around what happened still. One day, I don’t recall which, I had been exhausted beyond all reason and was just sitting there crying because I couldn’t figure out what I was doing. Do you ever get so overwhelmed with all the work to be done that you struggle to find a place to even start? Well, that was me that day. Do I grocery shop? Do I clean the house? Do I try to reach out to more friends? Everything I picked up to do seemed so trivial. Who cares if my dishes are dirty, plenty of people don’t have a kitchen anymore! I kept asking myself, “What are you doing?” and I had no answer, so I sat down and cried. After I was all cried out, I remembered a particularly overwhelming day at the Bridal Store I used to work for. I was still learning my job and it was just crazy busy that day. I was sitting at the welcome desk trying to make sense of things and one of my coworkers walked by as I frustratedly muttered to myself, “This is a disaster! I don’t even know what I’m doing!” My coworker stopped, looked me dead in the eye and said in her Australian accent the most mind-blowing thing to me, “Your best, you are doing your best” and then walked away to help her bride. It was such a simple thing to say, but that moment stuck with me.
As I have been moving through the past month and a half in the aftermath of this disastrous fire, I have had to remind myself that I am just doing my best and that I can’t fix everything for everybody. We are all just doing our best. It is not the end of the world if this Christmas is different than usual. Life is going to be weird for quite some time and we are all adjusting to “the new normal”. It is perfectly acceptable to have hard days, as long as I do my best that day. So, as I prepare today to have a “Friend-mas” celebration, I will do my best to provide a fun day for my friends. I will do my best to make sure each of them feels loved in my home. I will do my best to not turn into a puddle of tears as each one arrives and I get to hug them. I will do my best because that is all I can do.