Terry McLaughlin: Thankful to come together as compassionate citizens | TheUnion.com

Terry McLaughlin: Thankful to come together as compassionate citizens

Terry McLaughlin
Columnist

Every single one of us was affected in some way by the recent horrific fires in Nevada, Sonoma and Napa counties, and throughout the state of California.

Whether we had family members or friends in the path of the fire, whether we, ourselves, had to experience an evacuation — not knowing if we would have a home to which to return — or whether we suffered the critical loss of our own home or the life of a loved one, none of us could entirely escape from the chaos in which we found ourselves surrounded.

My niece's family was forced to flee their home in Sonoma, taking only pillows, blankets and their animals. They took refuge with a friend outside of the evacuation area, who ultimately sheltered 17 adults and 10 dogs for a week. While still displaced from their own homes, many of those 17 adults went daily to the evacuation center set up at the local high school to volunteer their time and effort and provide comfort to other distressed evacuees — all the time wondering if their own homes would survive. And some, in the end, did not.

Once again, the best within us is revealed when we are called to selflessness and service.

.... when we are stripped to our essence, nothing else in our life really matters more than the people.

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My family was blessed to be able to provide a safe haven for friends from Santa Rosa, who fled their threatened neighborhood located directly below the fire at Anadel State Park. When they arrived at our house they were exhausted, shaken, and shell-shocked, understanding their home was at significant risk and their life might be turned upside down in an instant. We did our best to provide them comfort — a warm bed, a hot shower, coffee, home cooked meals — some sense of normalcy, and respite from the unending stress and worry. Importantly, we were able to provide access to the internet to follow live-time maps and updates about the path of the fire, and to enable them to assure other friends and family that they were safe.

Despite the shock, fear and disbelief, and not knowing if their home and all of their precious possessions and memories still survived, my friend sent the following message to her friends and family:

"In times like this, one can't help but think about what's important … No surprise — family and friends rise to the top of that list. When faced with the prospect of living or dying, having a home or no home, we are all stripped to our essence. Fear and panic can easily cloud reason in times of disaster, but after all is said and done, what one values the most are those things that we may not think of on a daily basis: your friendly grocer's smile, the familiarity of your hairdresser to whom you pour out your soul on a monthly basis, your neighbor who takes out your trash when you are gone, the places you used to go as a family when your kids were young, the student who thanks you for your encouragement, your place of worship, and mostly, the friends and family whom you've been meaning to call or write, but just haven't, for some unknown, obscure reason."

The last few months have been particularly painful for our nation with deadly hurricanes in the South and East, tragic shootings and great despair in Nevada and Texas, as well as California, and massive wildfires with tremendous loss of property and life in California. To some who have lost all, it may seem particularly difficult to feel any sense of gratitude or thanksgiving today.

If we are literally picking up the pieces and remnants of the life and home we once had, it is hard to imagine just what is left for which to be grateful.

But, as my dear friend so eloquently stated at a moment when she truly did not know what the next day, week, or year would hold in store for her — when we are stripped to our essence, nothing else in our life really matters more than the people.

Perhaps that is the message that this Thanksgiving Day brings.

Gratefulness for the people in our community who extended themselves to the extreme to bring comfort and aid to those in need. Incredible gratitude for all of the first responders who risked their own lives to protect us and our property — in some cases while their own homes burned. Gratefulness for the nonprofits, the churches, the businesses, and the private citizens who harbored, fed, clothed and comforted refugees. Gratefulness for the unity and sense of purpose we all shared — forgetting for the moment our political or ideological differences.

As we struggled through the uncertainty, the despair, and the loss — we came together simply as compassionate citizens and human beings, caring more about the distress of our brothers and sisters than about our differences, wanting only to make them whole again.

With this same strength, compassion, and resolve we can all continue to aid our community to rebuild that which was lost, including faith and trust in ourselves, in providence, and in each other.

On this Thanksgiving Day I am most grateful to know that this, indeed, is who we really are and that for which we are truly made.

Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Nevada City, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at terrymclaughlin2016@gmail.com.