This statue of Shiva, Hindu God of Change, was the last thing I grabbed from our home when my husband and I fled from a terrifying wildfire on Labor Day, 2010. Our house was at the epicenter of what was up to that point, the most destructive fire in Colorado history. It incinerated 169 homes, and damaged dozens of others including ours.
We were “in exile” for 5 weeks living with friends down the mountain in Boulder. We finally returned not to our home, but to a stinky toxic landscape, thousands of blackened tree skeletons, and a seriously damaged and empty house. Just about everything in it had been sent off to be “de-smoked.”
The insurance claims adjuster commented that we were doubtless upset that our home was still standing, since our 19 burned out neighbors could collect their money and move elsewhere. Meanwhile, our greatest asset had lost at least half its value. Oh well, who needs to retire anyway.
Our mountain aerie was bleak and black throughout fall and winter. In spring gigantic noxious weeds began to sprout in verdant profusion. But as summer slowly crept in, so did blankets of extraordinary flowers so huge that they appeared to have parachuted in from outer space.
For most of the year people had tried to comfort us with assurances that nature heals. Redwood seeds were most commonly invoked, as they germinate only after a fire has broken their shell.
The happy story of redwood seeds was small comfort at the time though. It got downright annoying, like hearing that your terrible illness is a wake-up call that will eventually make your life better. If you live, that is. Nonetheless, many survivors of serious illness really will tell you that although they wouldn’t want to go through it again, they learned things of inestimable value during their sojourn in the Great Unknown.
What helped us most in the fire days was the love of friends, family, and the kindness of the Boulder community. Several restaurants offered free meals to fire refugees. Trauma therapists volunteered aid. And the Red Cross was nothing short of incredible. We need one another, and any act of help and compassion is a boon to both giver and receiver. Human beings are hard-wired to connect. It is the foundation of inner security and happiness.
Now let me apply the lessons of the fire to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Since Covid-19 has begun to rage out of control in several countries including the U.S., we need each other more than ever. But in a strange irony, this disaster requires social distancing. Although my brother, children, grandchildren, and many dear friends live far away, we’ve been talking more. A lot more. And we are comforted that no matter what, we have each others’ backs. We are one another’s true treasure.
Swells of gratitude have helped me mitigate a tide of strong emotion- episodes of anger, frustration, fear, and grief for the most vulnerable of us economically and physically. Gratitude, the “great fullness” as Cistercian monk Brother David Steindl-Rast describes it, is a welcome harbor of emotional refuge. I try to invoke it every time I feel like throwing a shoe at the TV.
As more people begin to self-isolate because of the Covid-19 crisis, or are told to quarantine themselves, our nation has been pitched suddenly into “recess.” No more sporting events, concerts, or even large business meetings. Life has gone virtual in a heartbeat for many workers- at least those of us who still have work.
Life just up and hit the pause button. At the very least this pause is a perfect time to stop and reflect- a precious opportunity that our hurried lives don’t often provide.
I’ve been reflecting a lot in this strange hiatus between what is no longer and what has not yet arrived. What’s most valuable to me? What matters most? How do I want to spend the rest of my life? How can I help? What is begging for a change? Has retirement sneaked in to steal me like a thief in the night?
I have to say honestly that I don’t yet know how this recess period will affect any of us. But I’m willing to entertain the possibility that with a dose of open mindedness it could be the pause that refreshes- a reset button that creates more curiosity within each of us personally, and within communities, political parties, and nations about how we can collaborate to make Planet Earth a more sustainable, equitable, and loving place to live.
Jai Shiva- hail to change in all its inglorious manifestations.