I woke up to a DM from an old friend on Facebook this morning telling me he’s been evacuated due to fires up in Oregon. What he said to me is “I’ve been evacuated. Now I understand!!!”. My heart hurts for him and the worry has set in knowing that he may lose everything and the stress he is undergoing. This post isn’t about him, but how empathy changes once we’ve experienced something personally.
Before the annual fires started devastating my area 4 years ago the last natural disaster I experienced was the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989. Decades of time between major disasters and type of disaster make a difference. I watched the Oakland fires on TV a few years later. I couldn’t fathom that type of devastation and the fear involved in them. When Katrina hit I immediately went down to the Red Cross and started volunteering at my local chapter. People were being relocated all over the country including Sonoma county. Again, I couldn’t begin to fathom experiencing a hurricane let alone needing to evacuate for safety reasons not knowing if there would be anything left when you return. God forbid losing everything like so many people did.
It changes you when you’ve experienced a natural disaster that puts everyone and everything in harms way. You are at the mercy of nature and people can only do so much to protect ourselves. The level of vulnerability is surreal. I still cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to go through a tornado or hurricane, but I can truly understand the fear and vulnerability which go with them in a way I never could before.
I’ve watched Daddy change now that He’s in His 3rd year of California fires. He landed in the tale end of the Napa fires in 2018. Ash filled the skies here that year. Last year He was calm, cool and collected when we evacuated. It was His first time and my 2nd. He didn’t really understand the panic to get gas tanks filled and the last minute emergency supplies when the fires began in case of evacuation and knowing that things would shut down and we’d be without power for extended periods of time. This year He reacted differently. Still not the same panic as I experience at first. I settle down and know we’re gonna be safe, but my immediate reaction is stress, anxiety and even a bit of PTSD.
The last few days Daddy has been referring back to a Facebook post He made in 2018 joking about fires. Yes, even having gone through them there is still humor…. at least for us. We live in a world of extremely dark humor. It helps! A lifetime friend of His made a comment about His post being insensitive because 3 local homes in Boston has just burned down a few days before. I put those 3 homes in perspective for her. Yes, the situation there was tragic!!! No doubt!! Losing a home for any reason is tragic. Since she decided to shame Daddy for being insensitive, I commented that perhaps she is unaware that we live in Sonoma county where 7,000 homes and businesses were lost the year before and we were still living with the aftermath of visibly burnt areas and beginning to see massive construction starting.
We lost electricity yesterday as part of the fire safety plan in our area. There are still fires in the county with new evacuation orders that came through 2 nights ago. The sky is filled with ash once again. The moon was hot pink through the murky clouds of ash. 2 million acres have burned in the California fires so far this time. It’s probably surpassed that by now, that was a few days ago. We are safe and at peace. Daddy brought up the comment about how insensitive He’s been about the 3 houses once again yesterday. Now that He’s lived through 3 annual fires in the area, His perspective on natural disasters and fires in particular have changed.
My friends message kinda says it all. “Now I understand!”