Tuesday, September 11, 2018

High School Reunions

I just attended my 50th year high school reunion. The last one I went to was my 20th. The tone is quite different now. It's clear we've all had a big dose of real life.

Maturity and the inevitable aging process is showing on all of us and it actually looks quite comfortable and friendly. Thank goodness for the name tags with our '68 senior pictures on them!

We have a curiosity about each other. Who are we now? Where do we live? What life experiences have shaped us?

We live all over the U.S., in other countries and some of us still live in the same town. We have a variety of education, training, and life experiences.

We know how to run a business, navigate career changes, raise children, pursue volunteer work and causes we believe in, and publish books. We know about things like divorce, addiction, and suicide. Some of us have searched and found our biological roots after adoption which opened up whole new chapters for us. We know about achievement and mistakes. We know about successes and failures.

Along the way we lost some classmates. Some didn't survive the Viet Nam War. Others died from cancer or accidents. I walked over to look at the memorial table with the photos a couple times during the evening. It was a reminder how blessed I am to have had so many years on this earth.

Time is the great equalizer. 50 years later, we no longer care much about what someone wears, what car they drive, whether they were in the "in crowd," a member of the nerd hive, or a jock. We all know those labels don't truly matter in the long run. These things may have defined us 50 years ago, but they are irrelevant now. We value each other as fellow human beings whose lives intersected with ours for a brief time.

The culture of high school lasts four years...just one chapter in life. With so many teenagers in the midst of pain battling with lack of self-esteem, anxiety, and social media bullying, I wish I could tell all of them that there is so much growth and human potential out there in their futures that is worth the struggle and the wait. No, it won't be easy at times. But when high school is over they can push the re-set button as so many do. Actually, it's never too late to push the re-set button.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Remains of the Day

We were making salads for dinner. Rich left the kitchen to walk outside to see what the helicopters were doing. They'd been in our skies for 4 days, but their noise was suddenly louder.

As he was standing there watching the activity, the power went out. I opened the patio door to call out to him and let him know. He motioned for me to come stand outside with him. We both looked at where the helicopter was doing water dumps and then looked at each other.

He said, "That's really close."

I said, "Let's get out of here."

The next 3 or 4 minutes were a flurry of manually opening the garage doors, throwing things we'd already packed in the backs of our cars, throwing other things we hadn't packed into the cars and finally locking up the house as quickly as possible. The police drove down the street, sirens were on and they yelled out the windows, "Leave NOW."

We later learned this is called a "Level 3 Evacuation." How quickly you forget a salad.

About 12 hours later, we heard for sure that our home had miraculously survived the Carr Fire. It would be 8 days before we could return to our home. It sustained damage, but we could live in it.

This was no ordinary fire. According to Cal Fire personnel, their intent went from fighting a fire, to rescuing people while trying to get themselves out alive.

Disaster zones are an intriguing study in the human response to devastation.

There is lots of trauma. The hardest trauma is the loss of life. One can say it's miraculous that a whole section of your town managed to evacuate with only 3 people dying. But if your loved ones are among the 3, it's no consolation.

The loss of one's domain is devastating even if you are not particularly attached to material things. You are instantly "homeless." Some people have the ability to go back in and see the damage immediately. Others are so distraught they cannot bring themselves to go look. I'm not sure you can predict which one of those people you would be.

The few hours following the evacuation, I wasn't particularly worried about "my stuff." I guess I thought I wouldn't be that attached to it. Once we moved back in 8 days later, I opened cabinets and closets and saw things I know I would have greatly missed. I would have grieved the loss of many sentimental and historical items in my home that were not particularly on my mind the day we left.

Some people want to begin the rebuilding process immediately and dive into the paperwork. Others need time to process the event as they experience an emotional paralysis. Some were already facing transition and now the future decision has been pushed ahead on their timeline. The disaster made the decision for them. They won't rebuild.

For the most part, these tragedies rally neighborhoods and communities together. They restore our faith in the goodness of mankind when we see overwhelming compassion and generosity. Neighbors become fierce supporters and protectors of people they only knew casually. Restaurant owners give free meals to evacuees and people who lost everything. Contractors offer to rebuild at cost for any first responders who lost their homes while fighting the fire and keeping others safe. Families show up everywhere with food and the necessary supplies for daily living for those who are left with absolutely nothing.

With trauma there is a wide range of emotion in a constant state of change. Some people are resilient at first and then crash later. A fencing contractor told us he was out on a property 24 hours after the fire when gas lines were unsafe and ashes were still smoldering, to install a temporary fence. The homeowner was demanding and still isn't satisfied about anything despite the contractor's willingness to go into a dangerous situation. The homeowner is just frustrated and mad.

And there's a man I heard about who was so ecstatic that his home "made it," but once he moved back in, became very grumpy about the damage and everything else.

It's easy to judge these people and say "at least you have each other" or "at least your insurance will help you rebuild." But the deep questions remain. "Why did one house survive and not another?" "What did God have to do with any of this?" These questions are unanswerable and it's a mistake to utter things we have no knowledge of.
The trauma is there and it's there for quite awhile. Things can trigger you years later like the sound of a helicopter or seeing something in a store that you lost in the disaster. I had friends who went through Hurricane Andrew in Florida. The sound of the wind, especially at night, and the sound of shattering glass are triggers for them.

"Grace" is the imperative word here. People who've experienced disaster benefit most from hugs and your caring presence rather than words. Listening and avoiding the urge to give an answer or help them feel better or "get over it" in some way will only alienate you and frustrate them.

I didn't lose my home, but I'm still on a constantly changing journey of emotions. They say disaster assistance and compassion begin to disappear after several weeks and then rapidly diminish in the months following. But trauma doesn't leave at the same rate. In fact it often increases in intensity later. The real test of "community" is being able to remain with people on their journey of starting over for as long as that takes.

Friday, March 23, 2018

A Book Is Born

I'm thinking back 8 years ago. I'm just minding my own business in my empty-nester world on the Central Coast of California and all of a sudden these two children enter our lives. Overnight, my husband and I become grandparents....not in the typical way, mind you. We are now foster grandparents.

The little ones come with a box of well-used clothing and a few toys. And they also arrive with some physical signs of neglect, abuse and gaping holes in their spirits from a chaotic world lacking love and security. Our son and his wife welcome them with open arms. "Come as you are" and they do. They come with guarded smiles and a string of adverse life experiences behind them.

They stayed for 14 months and then moved on. That decision was made for them by a judge. But the rest of us were forever changed. The pain of their departure diminishes a little each year and we go on with our lives as new grandchildren enter our world, but we are not the same people for having loved them. And this was the beginning of how my first book came into being.

A series of events...something I read, a recollection from my own childhood, an idea, and somehow a seed is planted. And a story begins to weave its way through my mind. I have periods of frustration along the way. There are many long stretches of time where I don't go near it and am tempted to put the tale aside for good because I can't write an ending I'm satisfied with.

And then, finally, it comes together after a few years and I know the story is complete. It's not a neat and tidy ending because the life of displaced children is anything but neat and tidy.

Once the story is finished I wake up to the realization that this story will definitely need to be marketed to a specific audience. This book is for children, ages 4-8, and focused on those who experience upheaval from being moved from one home to another. Marketing is not my strong suit. But I believe in the power of the story so much, I am compelled to find the trail of their fingerprints and the people assigned to  guide these thousands of children as best they can.

The pencil sketches are almost finished and my artist, graphic designer and I, are on the home stretch with this project.

It's about resilience and hope and it will be published before summer's end. Stay tuned.