Over the past several weeks I had the unique opportunity to work with emergency teams on the Camp incident in Paradise, California. It’s hard to believe the devastation. The Camp Fire is the most destructive and deadliest fire in California history. In total, 13,972 residences were destroyed, along with 528 commercial buildings and 4,293 other buildings and structures.
As I drive along the streets, I think of all that is gone. Too many lives were lost. Too many families will mourn the passing of a beloved family member. And I try not to think of the helpless pets that had no chance, but my mind goes there, and I feel my eyes start to water. I think of homes filled with beloved heirlooms, family photos, secret boxes filled with old love letters, children’s drawings, and untold other irreplaceable possessions. I cannot imagine the emotions Paradise residents must be feeling. It’s so far beyond anything that I have ever experienced.
While working one day, I met a couple who lost their home. They are in the later years of their lives. We spoke about tomorrow, and what it might bring for them, and where they might go. What stood out most was their optimism. During our conversation, the woman said, with confidence in her voice, “our journey has just begun.” I feel blessed to have been in the presence of such wisdom. What a beautiful way to embrace disaster. Now I picture them on the road to somewhere, hand in hand, starting a journey and a new chapter in their lives. I think of love, and the resilience that love can foster.
I leave Paradise with lessons learned. More than anything, I see now how quickly the world around you can vanish. Everything can be gone, everything except love. Nothing and no one can take that away from you. And it’s all you need to survive anything.
To help Paradise residents, you can make donations to the American Red Cross, the California Community Foundation, or several other organizations.
Special thanks to my work colleague, Melissa, who throughout my time on the incident, was constantly thinking of ways to show love to the people of Paradise. Decorating and giving a Christmas tree to town hall was all her idea. It’s people like Melissa that remind us of the value of random acts of kindness.