A series of natural disasters and senseless tragedies over the past month culminated this week in a firestorm in the counties north and east of us here in Northern California. So intertwined are the lives of people in these counties, that most of us in Marin have relatives and friends who have either lost their homes or have been evacuated and waiting to hear.
We have friends from downtown Sonoma who fled the fire and have been staying with us, so the anxiety is not just something we see on the news but an ongoing palpable presence in our home. Also my closest longtime friend and her husband were evacuated from their home of forty years in Santa Rosa, and my anxiety about them has been ongoing as communication has been difficult.
Yesterday at the end of class, I could hear my friend leaving a message on the answering machine. I did something I have never done before: I excused myself and ran across the house — so urgently did I just need to hear her voice. She told me that their home is safe but currently uninhabitable.
Even if we didn’t know anyone personally affected, the smoke fills our skies, eyes, throats and lungs, keeping us all indoors as much as possible, closing our schools and cancelling flights at the airport. You can see from the photo our view of usually crystal clear Mt. Tam. And the sun when it sets looks more like a full moon, bright solid tangerine amidst the dusky smoke. How can we not hold those in danger in our thoughts and prayers?
In class I led a metta practice woven throughout the sitting, sending messages of wellness, ease, peace and happiness out to all who are suffering. As always we begin with ourselves, and at times of great stress this is especially important. I have been noticing that my personal practice is improved when I begin with sending metta to myself — ‘May I be well’ etc. — It is very grounding, centering and clears the mass of thoughts that can cloud my mind like smoke.
If you are affected by any of these scary and challenging events, or have any kind of anxiety or stress in your life, try metta practice to find solace and strength to carry on.
A few weeks ago I wrote about equanimity, the ability to hold all of what arises in a spacious balanced embrace. This unparalleled firestorm has delivered stories that remind me how often life offers up joy and sorrow in equal measure. I heard that a member of my high school gang lost his home to the fire just a few days before he will be walking his daughter down the aisle. Such a joyous moment for any father paired with great loss. A reminder of what’s precious and how fragile life is.
One of the friends staying with us had just days before been excitedly sharing the news on Facebook of the birth of her first grandson. Then she and her husband woke to discover their lives and home in grave danger of fire carried on high winds, encircling their town.
I remember one woman years ago asking how it was possible to hold simultaneous joy and sorrow. And now, having these two new examples, I wonder if maybe that’s why we are given two hands — to hold all that arises, whatever life brings.
I want to end with a story that my old friend shared on that phone call I raced to answer. She said that for a long time she had been asking her husband to go through all the accumulated stuff in the garage and get rid of whatever he didn’t want. They were his things so it wasn’t something she could take on. He procrastinated and procrastinated. And then for some reason, last Sunday he decided the time was right to go through it all. They packed the car up to the gills and drove down to their local Salvation Army. But it was closed. Oh well. No problem. They would just take it in on Monday. Then in the wee hours of Monday morning, they woke to the smell of smoke, alerts on their phones and had to rush to evacuate. They were lucky they were given more advance warning than some of their fellow citizens of Santa Rosa. But like many others they were driving a car filled with household possessions.The difference was that their car was filled not with the things they most cherished but all the things they never wanted to see again.
I have been honored to witness with both sets of friends the wisdom, compassion, resilience and willingness to let go that they exemplified. I am so very grateful for their friendship.
May all beings be well. May all beings be at ease. May all beings be at peace. May all beings be happy.
Stephanie, once again you have so eloquently expressed what we all are feeling. We have been watching the news coverage with horror, thinking of the many friends and family members living in the eye of the firestorm, and of all those near enough to be acutely affected by the smoke and by having loved ones in the midst of it all. We are also remembering all the wonderful times we have spent in the area… knowing the landscape and beauty of the region is likely to take a long time to recover. We send our love to you and to all those affected.
So grateful our Santa Rosa friends survived…we lived there for much of 2015-16 and have been devastated to see how much has been lost. Stef, thanks for your reminder of the beauty and sorrow of equanimity. Sending metta to all but especially those in the North Bay without homes, and those who lost their lives.
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