And…The First Fire-Related Lawsuit Is Filed. Compassion Is Needed.

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Tonight six more individuals were added to the list one never wants to be on…deceased. Dead due to a fast burning out of control wildfire. This brings the number killed to 48 with hundreds still missing. It is a sad day for our state but especially for the towns of Paradise and Concow where most of the victims resided.

Paradise is not a compact city. There were many folks living down miles and miles of long country roads. People spread out far and wide surrounded by tinder dry forests. As I read over the list of the missing I couldn’t help but notice that about 90% of them were over 70 years-old. Grandparents who couldn’t run fast enough, couldn’t drive, or maybe even hear any warnings that might have come their way.

Tonight it was also announced that the very first lawsuit was filed in court with the fire still raging and fault not yet determined by fire investigators.  The defendant in the lawsuit is PG&E, the local electrical utility. Right before the fire became an inferno, the utility emailed an individual requesting access to their property as the PG&E’s transmission wire was sparking. This is most likely just the beginning of a long list of suits that will surely follow.

While I realize that many will want to see someone held responsible for the deadliest fire in California history; I am hoping people will not turn on those who did their best during a chaotic situation…the first responders. Having lived through several emergencies, I can only believe that everyone did their best to save lives while a fire was swallowing up land the size of 8 football fields every minute. With hot embers flying through the air driven by radically changing winds which were being pushed faster than a person can drive, it seems to me that to try to point fingers is a game in futility and one that degrades our collective humanity. Yes, looking back we always find things that could have been done better and faster but when calamity strikes we all do what we can and  we do what we can to the best of our ability and with the knowledge we have at the time.

Unfortunately, we all have noble ideas of how we THINK we would react in certain situations, often playing those scenarios out in our minds at different points in our lives. But life isn’t that simple. We often find in an emergency that our previously good ideas no longer work. Trees fall, lines are long, folks stay behind for one last thing, we fail to heed the warnings soon enough or we don’t have enough gas in our car.

Unfortunately, I suspect that there will many people who will go to their graves second guessing themselves for failing to act in ways that were impossible to implement when there are so many lives to save in a cataclysmic event. It is truly one of those moments that you can never totally prepare for. The notions and ideas that survivors had about themselves and how they would react in life changing events often entrap them. Then the “if only’s” begin to slowly eat away at them until they are but shells of their former selves.

I hope this does not happen. I hope people will look at one another and not point fingers but will show compassion and understanding. Perhaps one of the greatest things folks can do for themselves and others in this type of situation  is to stop, breathe, and say:

“I know you are suffering. That is why I am here for you.”

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The “end” of an emergency is really just the “beginning” of a new normal. It isn’t easy. Anger appears out of nowhere and despair can rob us of moments we formally enjoyed. Yet, compassion and forgiveness (a blame free envirnoment) can go a long way towards bringing a community back together and re-building it in such a way that it creates a long-lasting atmosphere of vibrancy, restoration, and love.May everyone impacted by this fire remember that blame creates suffering which only causes further suffering for ourselves. And may those involved look for the best in each and every person and not assume the worst; so that seeds of compassion planted now will flourish in the future creating Paradise once again in this amazing mountain town.

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View of the area around my home

 

Self-Improvement

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Several weeks ago an older woman walked up to me and told me that she really liked how I talked to my son. I was shocked because I did not feel that I had done a good enough job to merit that type of praise. In fact, as I often do, I felt as though I had “kind-of-sort-of failed” in my response.

Later as I reflected on the moment I thought, ” Why, if a stranger can be so kind to me, then why is it so difficult for me to be kind to myself? Why do I seem to negate recognizing the good that I do each day? Why is it I always feel the need to do better?”

As I have contemplated this the last several weeks I have realized that I often end my day examining those things that I feel I have failed or done a less than spectacular job at according to some invisible standards I hold for myself. And so, I have been contemplating and asking myself: where did these standards even come from and what makes me give them the validation that they so often don’t deserve?

In response to this, I have begun a nightly ritual in an effort to change this part of my life. Upon laying down in bed at night, I hug myself tight, and make a mental list of all the things I did right that day and if I am in doubt about one of them I give myself a win anyway. At the end of this recap I am write down the improvements I have seen in myself as a way to encourage myself as I take this journey through life. I give myself the chance to see the positive through a lens of critical assessment that I have lived with for a very long time. At times, It has been difficult to see positive change because I am so used to being harsh with myself, but little by little, even though I may fall short of my “invisible standards;” I am finding instances in which I deserve my own pat on the back even though I have not behaved perfectly. And I find, that when I wake in the morning I seem to be much more optimistic than I had previously been.

Often newly married couples are given the advice not to go to bed mad at each other because it leaves a sour taste in your mouth the next morning. The same could be said of ourselves. Going to bed with negative thoughts begets negativity in the morning. So try noticing your good points and successes throughout the day and run through the list before retiring for the night. You might just find you sleep sounder and wake up feeling refreshed.

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“A lake that is noisy cannot reflect anything” – Robert Adams…290 Days TO Fix This

Years ago, when we were first married I bought our first picture for our house. Little did I realize at the time of purchase how much art mimicked life. Our life, in fact.

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The painting consists of two swans. One bird is serene and just floating along quietly. Obviously, if we apply this to real life, this swan is definitely B. The other swan is upright, flapping its wings, chest out of the water and making such a ruckus it looks like it is going to stroke out any minute. That would be me. And this is pretty much how we have lived our lives. Me… upset about social injustice, corrupt politicians and suck-worthy IEP meetings. Meanwhile, B stays in the background gliding around effortlessly while making noise and flapping his wings only when truly necessary. Think emergencies or boys being truly bad. And guess who people respected and listened to…yep B. I’ve discovered that no one likes a noisy bird.

Finally after many years of being upset and squawking over just about everything, I made a conscious decision to change. I decided I didn’t want to be the flapping, stroking-out swan anymore; instead I wanted to be the serene swan whose stillness reflects her inner beauty and confidence over wide swaths of the quiet lake. I wanted to be the swan that was listened to and whose wisdom was sought.

And there is another major reason for this change. Noise. I have discovered that noise creates chaos and chaos creates pain in numerous different forms. I now understand the beauty of living a life with much less noise/chaos leading to increased peace, harmony and understanding for all members of the pond to enjoy.

So now, when I look at the picture it serves as reminder of conscious change.  Further, when I glimpse the painting, I no longer believe myself to be the flappy-crappy swan. Now I see myself as the noble swan.  And now because of the stillness of the swan it allows the tranquil pond to reflect back the quiet confidence of this beautiful old bird as it glides silently by.

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In the Stillness…315 Days To Fix This

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Do you know that blessed silence just before dawn? Those moments before the first chirp of a bird, or toss of the newspaper the second before it hits the pavement and before the first car on the block roars to life and exits the driveway without the driver looking in the rearview mirror because she is always the first on the road?

It’s that peaceful time, a sleepy lackadaisical moment when everything seems right and nothing could possibly be wrong or go south. It is a time for hope, daydreaming, and a mug of hot coffee laced with sweet cream and steam that floats so high in the air it looks as if it is the tail on the end of a kite sliding towards the moon.

Those are precious moments, silent moments, that are yours alone until…

Your wife opens her mouth.

Blaise Pascal said, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”

I am sure my husband would agree.

When B first mentioned the M.A.Y.B.E.  D.I.V.O.R.C.E. one of the things that made him unhappy (or so he thought) was that I didn’t get up with him in the morning. I didn’t because I thought that it was his private time. A time to relax before the day began and I didn’t want to intrude. But sure, I could accommodate him and in that vein, I told him to wake me up in the morning so that we could spend some time together.

He hated it.

All of a sudden his quiet was gone, vanished like a cockroach in the light. Skittering away to small places where the quiet became the smallest of silent echoes. And where peace once reined now there were questions.

“When did you first feel like you were not happy?”

“Gracie seems to be developing an attitude. How should we fix it?”

“Do you think that love gets easier or harder the longer you are married?”

“Do my thighs looks fat?”

“The dog needs his anal glands expressed. Can you do that?”

I have to confess that the morning togetherness lasted about a week and then he just stopped waking me up. I’ve asked him about it and he says that he needs his time in the morning and if I want to join him I can knowing that he will keep doing whatever he has been doing for the past 10 years. And it makes me sad. I enjoyed connecting in the morning with him but it appears he can do without connecting with me.

But I have a plan. Tomorrow I will get up with him and just sit quietly. I won’t ask questions, I won’t make comments and I will just sit. Peacefully. Mute. Serenely. And utterly still.  Because sometimes in those stolen peaceful moments just before dawn you can find things by just observing in the stillness. And I am looking…for what’s left of my marriage and myself. Perhaps, I will find it in the quiet right before the muffled sounds that signal a new day and a new way of relating.