It's never good to wake up to several emails saying things like, "Just want you to know that your boys are O.K." or "The fire is approaching campus but they are all in the gym."
Don't get me wrong. I am tremendously thankful for a handful of people, (most notably Tanya, Jenelle and Kjaere) who went into over-drive to give me frequent news of Jesse and Trevor's safety, mood and whereabouts.
But I am ahead of myself.
On Thursday night at about 6pm California time, a wildfire broke out in the hills above Westmont College in Santa Barbara, (Montecito, to be exact.) The cause of the blaze is unknown at this time. What is known is that the 70 mile per hour winds took the fire and whipped it into a fast and furious inferno that engulfed the college and destroyed 14 faculty homes as well as a significant portion of one of the residence halls and several smaller buildings.
Within moments of smelling smoke and then spotting flames, the student body and everyone else on campus, was in the fire- proof gym where they ended up spending the night. The blaze ripped through campus and then up into the Riviera area of Santa Barbara and has (so far) taken at least 70 homes down in its 2,000 acre path.
Westmont students are off campus now, scattered here and there. They are waiting to hear if classes might resume by next Wednesday.
Those are some of the sparse details.
It has been 16 years since we lost our home in Loita to a fire.
I remember the surreal feeling of knowing that the house was gone. I remember the oddly pleasant feeling of lightness when I pondered the fact that I really didn't HAVE anything. (Painful but strangely good at the same time.)
Of course, I had everything that truly mattered. I had Byron, Jesse and Trevor and the 4 of us together made a wealth that nothing else could touch.
But all the little things were gone... The ring my mom gave me when I turned 11... The letters from my grandfather who lived in West Africa for 40 years... The baby blankets my grandmother had made for the boys... The note Byron wrote me on the night Jesse was born... The stuff of life, no more.
The loss of place is a more elusive feeling to deal with. There is a sacred nature to the shelters we call home. This is where we live and breathe and laugh and kiss and have our arguments and welcome our friends and make our tea and lay our tired selves down in the cool of night. This is where we grow and where we find the safety to dream tomorrow into being.
This space called home is nothing less than a holy place.
Today, I am thankful that no lives were lost. I am thankful for a well-planned emergency response and a dedicated crew of courageous fire-fighters. There is just so much I am thankful for.
But I am also sober and mindful of tender things. I don't know who all lost home Thursday night. I do know that my friends, Russell and Allison, lost theirs.
I know how much loss they have already experienced in the last few years. I know that cancer took their lovely teenage daughter and then raged in Allison's body as well. I know that they have been rebuilding life as a three-some with their son, Travis.
And now home is gone. The place where they tended gently to their dying daughter and escorted her as far as they could go as she slipped away from them has "gone with the water" as the Maasai would say.
My Maasai friends came to sit with me when my house burned down. Over the next couple of weeks, my friends would arrive with a bag of sugar or a bowl and spoon or some other gift, and sit quietly with me. If I was busy with the work of living in camping mode, I would pause to receive their companionship.
Jesse and Trevor said they saw Russell working hard all night to help the evacuated students. When they passed him on their way out the next morning, they asked after his house. It hit them hard to realize that he was serving others while his own home was burning down.
I guess I wish I could sit with Russell and Allison today.
No need for words. "What good are words now?"
Just the unglamorous gift of presence.