Voyeur

10.28.17

I had prepared myself to see it (or so I thought). Now that the road was opened, post-fire, I could take the more convenient route from home to my office in Santa Rosa. Over the past couple of weeks, I’d heard the stark litany of familiar landmarks that burned: the schools, historic buildings, even sprawling neighborhoods. And now, my imagination was working overtime–trying to piece together an image of what I would encounter.

On this first trip through the burn zone, I was struck more by what was left after the fire had its way with these homes and businesses than what was gone. As I approached what had once been a lovely, unpretentious, neighborhood, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I could see the redwoods and pines that gave it its charm had gone over to the “dark side”. They stood black and gnarled, stripped of any minty-green softness, presiding over charred homes like sinister sentinels.

I wanted to look away; but then curiosity kept me scanning the destruction. Could that be a dryer? A car? A gate? Flat, ashen ground was studded with mangled doors and appliances in all their naked shame. Crumbling brick facades and fireplaces hinted at the simple homes that did humble duty here, holding the lives of these families.

No sooner would I let my eyes settle long enough on an object to figure out what it had been, than guilt would swiftly slap my gawking face and redirect my eyes to the road. Had I no shame? I was looking right into someone’s living room. A voyeur. I could only imagine how invasive it must feel for the owners of those properties, knowing the parade of slow-moving cars could see right into the wounded guts of their living rooms and kitchens. In a strange twist, “home” would now be the place where (instead of privacy and relaxed familiarity), they would feel most vulnerable and exposed  One more violation.

I read an angry Facebook post by a fire victim who was beyond frustrated with people pulling out cell phones to video her decimated neighborhood as they slowly cruised by. I can imagine that might feel like being filmed by passing motorists as I lay bleeding on the side of the road next to my mangled car. I would be needing immediate help much more than expressions of shock and pity, and then real support for the long haul as I recovered from my injuries.

So that’s what I want to be to these survivors: a source of genuine love and support, as well as part of the net of community here to circle around and give them hands-on help for as long as they need it.

These are the gifts that were quietly given to me throughout the endless search process that followed Steve’s very dramatic, public death. From my position it was very clear who was “gawking” and who was around because they genuinely wanted to ease my crushing burden. It was their steady, determined prayers and presence in my life that allowed me to survive the unimaginable and move through layer upon layer of healing, finally finding myself able to come full circle and pour all I’ve received into someone else’s numb and shaken existence. Such a privilege to come alongside another human being as they take those first steps in learning to coax beauty from ashes.

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