Today, July 9th, at approximately 1:30 pm, forest caught fire close to my house--about a mile away. In the early afternoon, it was about 100 acres, and as I'm falling asleep, it has grown to 226 acres. Last I knew, it was 0% contained and a mile from my house, though things easily could have changed.
I've had about 18 reactions to the news today-- fear and worry, gratitude for fire fighter parents who taught me to understand what the news tells me and who can take care of the house and cat adequately, frustration with my inability to do anything except pray, frustration with my lack of words--what even CAN I pray?-- and anger at flippant Instagram posts, to name a few. I've started to try to process the idea of what losing my house would be like, what it would be like to return to ravaged, blackened tree stumps and bricks instead of my childhood home. That's a painful process.
Here's what I want you to know in this: as long as the fire burns, it will be somewhere on my mind. Perhaps buried deep in the back and perhaps at the forefront, but it will be somewhere on my mind, whether it burns for just another day or three months. And while right now, this is perhaps very shocking news for you, and it's definitely on your mind, I don't expect it to stay on your mind. I know you have lots of pain and joy and fear and adventure tugging at your own heart, and that's beautiful. My experience with one fire is just a sliver of your existence, of the collective human experience. This is true of any tragedy or trauma, I believe. We cannot all feel the pain on the deepest levels; that is saved for those most directly affected.
I cannot, will not ask you to feel the weight of this fire for as long as it burns. You are welcome to, if it burdens you too, but please do not force yourself to feel some obligatory pain just because I'm nervous for the firefighters on the line and for those who have lost and will lose property. There is always plenty of pain in the world, as a result of our broken humankind situation.
Be a joyful light, if you have it in you. You have a joy given to you by a beautiful and all-powerful Creator. My request of you is that you let your joy shine, if you are in a place to do so. If not, be real and raw with yourself and those around you (that's a challenge I'm issuing to myself as well). But if you have light, by all means, share it. In the words of Passenger, "if we all light up, we can scare away the dark." I have a second half to my request though: know that some of us will continue to have heaviness as long as the fire burns and some even after the fire is long out. I think of the many fires we have seen around Colorado and the world recently, and the pain and cost implicit to rebuilding a life and a house after it burns down. I think about the ways that people are still struggling with damage from Boulder's big flood several years ago-- these are weights that carry on long after the news is breaking or juicy. These are the heaviest and loneliest weights.
So please, shine your light and be joyful, but remember that some among you will always be carrying pain, so they may need a little extra help to smile, or they may choose not to smile at all. And when it's your turn, because we all take a turn with bearing trauma or tragedy, know that others will perhaps start singing soon before you remember how to smile. And that's okay too.