Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Holding Patterns Aren't Just for Planes

As we enter the third day of this fire event, the morning sky was as it has been for the past two days, smokey and ominous.  Fires continue to the east and now the west of our small town.  The north appears to have smoke and the south more than yesterday.

View from Austin looking towards my town.  Another great pic of a really bad fire.

Slowly as the morning progressed, the sun's light was dimmed by the growing smoke in the sky .  It is the third day of these fires.  We began to smell smoke for the first time since the fires began.  The wind had been pushing it away but today, today the thick smoke found its way into our yards.  Faint at first, then so strong that it was difficult to breathe.  Ash began falling from the sky and we wondered where exactly this fire was.  It seemed so close, so very close.

Our bodies are tired as are our minds.  The constant waiting for information takes a told on those waiting on a possible evacuation.  But we have it good.  We woke up in our homes, in our own beds yet free to wander around all our possessions.  So many of the people of this town are not.  Those are the people I wanted to write about this morning.

As if hidden by the smoke that blankets our community, these people who have lost everything are more than displaced.  They have left the area or are staying locally with family or friends.  They wake up on someone else's sofa or in someone else's bed.  They look at all they have in the world and it all fits in a single suitcase.  All those everyday tomorrows and the plans they made are no longer clear.  The future is hazy, not unlike the sky.  Evacuees? Displaced?  These people are so much more than an adjective.  They are mothers and fathers, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins. They are young and the not so young. They represent all ethnic and social background.

Then there are those people with no place to go.  Many too proud to go to a local shelter or unwilling to abandon family pets.  So they are sleeping in their cars.  Local gas stations, convenience stores, grocery stores, even the Walmart is a sea of RVs and cars with families living in them.  Everyone just trying to find a place to be.   Sometimes all you want is your own parking place in the middle of a crowded parking lot.  Just a place for you and your family.  Just a place when there is no place to be.  They are lost for now, coping with a world that changed in a day and trying to find their way through the new normal. The fire took their worlds and cared not their status in it and we should not be lulled into complacency by their label or their numbers.  They are us and they need time to heal and help to rebuild. 

With more than 5000 people in this town evacuated, the number of displaced people and families is staggering.  How do you go from having a home and all the things that make up your personal world to nothing but the clothes on your back, your family sleeping in a car in your own prized parking spot in a Walmart parking lot?  I guess more importantly, how do you recover from it all?

Those of us left in town have opened our doors to those in need.  Offers have gone out to those who need a meal, something to drink, a shower or just a quiet place to take a nap.  Offers have gone out to temporarily house horses and livestock and pets.  Up and down my street, I can see extra cars and RVs, I can hear extra dogs barking and I can see our town in the midst of change and upheaval.

How we took for granted our mundane, normal lives.  How we took for granted the beauty of our town.  How we took for granted all that we had.  But look at who we are.  We are a people that are kind and generous and giving.  In the midst of tragedy, there are moments of compassion and care. We are people of a small town in Texas where neighbors help neighbors and hardships are shared. We are a people that will endure and recover and restore. We just need the fires to end so we can get busy doing what we need to do.

It is day three and I hear the planes.  The battle isn't over yet nor is it lost.

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