Saturday, November 15, 2008

Of fire and loss and people far away

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.


dana said...

beautiful, haunting images Lisa...of love and loss...and yet, hope, amidst the ashes...

my love and peace to the boys, through you...

we love you

Anonymous said...

Your words capture so much. It is only those who have lived through the loss of a fire that know these details with such depth... I appreciate how you have shared this with us... I resonate with so much of it... sometimes it seems like the Painted Cave Fire (in which my home was lost) was yesterday.

Anonymous said...

the above was from me :)
-Jill Baker

Carrie said...

Oh Lisa. I remember that! As you said, what good are words now? I can pray, and I will. We have 2 extra rooms now if you hear of someone needing a place. Thank you for your raw vulnerability here.

Rebecca said...

I can feel with you on this one....I lost all my treaurs in a flood..all the things that one saves .....the kiddie things and the things of life. the only things that were not lost were photographs which were hidden in a high storage place...since that time, life has taken a differnet meaning for me//now I am a minimalist and my treasure is in people ..but my heart is with all of those in California at this mother was from there.....

mbick said...

In my usual morning e-mail/blog rounds, I had read about a private residence on the campus having burned and then about the folks on campus having gathered in the gym for prayer and music and quiet. And then I read that your boys and your friends are among those directly hurt by this fire.
Ours is a small world. Prayers for peace to all.

Ann S. said...

Hi Lisa

As soon as I heard about the LA fires I looked up Westmont and turned to your blog to see if all was well with your boys. Thankful for the good news, I am also touched by your reflections. I've never lost my home in an emergency but lately I find myself missing some of the losses that have come from leaving the country where I was so shaped as a young adult to come 'home' to the area of the world where I was born. I miss seeing my first little - just for us - apartment, the park where I walked pregnant and later with babies, the comfort of hot chocolate in the Hema on a wet day. My favourite bridge in Leiden. Somehow its the memories that give you depth and connected to a place - and all the little symbols of it. If I drove down the freeway from Schiphol airport today I would feel that -aaah I'm home sense of comfort - and yet not be with the real home of my family. what a strange journey this life is.. Ann

Baba said...

wow...I'm sorry to hear that...and at the same time glad no one got hurt...yes, what else can I say...
my big hug with prayers of peace and comfort for all those who suffered in some way with this...

Anonymous said...

Yes, the fire was terrible, but it was fun to come home from a little holiday and find our house full of the 2 boys and 2 nice girls who all stayed awhile. They were so appreciative and pitched in with anything that had to be done, like cooking and cleaning up etc

We commented several times, "Byron sure trained you boys well" meaning both of you really.

Loved having them. Mumsie

Anonymous said...

Wow Lisa, I came upon your blog by chance and I'm taken by the way you write. It's beautiful. I'll be back