Becky Goodwin: Paradise re-imagined, and everything else too |

Becky Goodwin: Paradise re-imagined, and everything else too

Becky Goodwin
Becky Goodwin

Pondering Paradise, the town in its historic glory and in its current ashes, I have a clear vision of its renewal, and more: I see potential renewal for all of us, wherever we live.

I first saw Paradise from the back of a motorcycle in 1972, its glory years. I was a gleeful freshman at CSU Chico, and my first college boyfriend took me on a joyride up into the mountain town, which lived up to its name.

In the summer of 1974, I helped put out a forest fire in Paradise. I was on a seasonal firefighting crew, back in the day when everyone was waking up to the idea that women can do such work.

I passed a rigorous physical exam, thanks to years of Girl Scout camp and backpacking. Then I went to firefighter school, and I became a proud member of the Chico “Firecrackers.”

The people who lost everything in the fire clearly have to start their lives over. But what about the rest of us?

Our first call was to Paradise. Whatever we saved that night is gone now.

Many years later, long past the age of being a firefighter, I stared at photos of burned-up neighborhoods on the TV news; I wonder what to do, and I feel sad.

There are many “feel-good” news stories, too, about all who are rallying to alleviate the suffering and support the recovery. The creativity and generosity are amazing. My sadness cannot compare to the sorrow of those who have lost everything, so I want to be part of the solutions.

Children’s TV “Mr. Rogers” said that whenever there is trouble anywhere, “look for the helpers,” and you will see them, and you can join them.

I have donated to two organizations that I trust. I know that my contributions will help. I know that the best organizations coordinate and cooperate.

None of them can do all the good deeds that must be done, so they work together. And I know some ways to directly help those who are displaced.

But I cannot help observe and ponder bigger picture: the local and global trends in earth damage and human agony. I want to know how to prevent these tragedies.

The whole world seems to be marked by migrations of people fleeing natural disasters and man-made terror. What’s really going on?

Where in the world are people not running from danger? Desperate refugees are on the move; while others are left behind, trapped by starvation, sickness, and bombing injuries.

How much more disaster can humankind take?

I am a hopegiver, but even a perky pastor like myself gets discouraged. The death tolls rise, and the consequences multiply. Smoke pollutes the air hundreds of miles away from the fire. Weary survivors slog through bureaucracy.

Firefighters dance in the rain, but know their work is far from done. And the responders from all the compassionate agencies are exhausted, too, but the years of recovery have only just begun.

The people who lost everything in the fire clearly have to start their lives over. But what about the rest of us?

I think it’s time we all start over. What if we all seriously decided to rethink our lives? What if we all changed the ways we live?

We are overdue for true “spiritual housecleaning.”

While we help our neighbors rebuild, may we also rethink how we are living? While we help others start over, in what ways do all of us need to start over?

Christmas and other winter holy days are surely the perfect call to spiritual transformation for everyone right now. And I mean deep, personal, spiritual inner work.

The answer is going to be different for each of us. What begins in each human heart has an impact in healing the world. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Let’s imagine fresh starts and let’s embrace new beginnings. Let’s rejoice in our imaginations, and begin to share big dreams—big ideas—about restoring hope for all.

Becky Goodwin, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. Her opinions are her own do not necessarily reflect those of the Editorial Board or its members. She can be reached at

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