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Grace and Hope in Time of Calamity
I write and file this column midweek, when the fierce and pitiless winds are at a lull, and so the drama will have resumed by the time you read this. All the same, these sentiments will surely have been reinforced when the devilish Santa Anas roared anew.
I write these words after returning from a middle-of-the-night evacuation and, blessedly, finding my home still standing.
I write this bleary-eyed – and with tears in my eyes.
I write this with a heart that feels like it has been stomped upon by a marching band wearing army boots, yet I write this also with a heart filled with love and pride and hope because of the way my longtime hometown has responded to the home-and-heirlooms-purloining Thomas Fire.
Ventura, perhaps as never before, has shown itself to be We-tura.
So, too, has this same spirit emerged in Sant-Us Paula and Our-jai, and all our local communities, as the Thomas Fire scorched a path like General Sherman marching from Atlanta to the sea during the Civil War.
Indeed, when I write “I” here it truly echoes of “we” because the Thomas Fire touched us all in similar ways.
As mentioned, I (we) had to evacuate when flames crested a hill from the north and encroached Foothill Road with our home mere yards across the two-lane blacktop on the south. At 3 a.m. I (we) knocked on front doors and honked car horns to make sure our neighbors were awake and we all got the hell out of Hell’s way.
I (we) had countless friends, co-workers and family members who likewise needed to evacuate and worried about them one and all, as well as about those we do not know at all.
I (we) felt an earthquake rattle my soul learning about dear and longtime friends who lost their homes in Clearpoint and, as the fire surged on, in Ondulando.
I (we) learned of more friends, further down the fire’s path, who similarly were suddenly made homeless.
I (we) worried about relatives – me, about my father’s home at the ocean’s-view-crest of Ondulando and, below in the same tract, my eldest brother’s home and the home of one of my nieces. These fears extended a mile away to my other older brother’s home that lay directly in the evacuated path of this vicious monster.
I (we) hoped against hope all my family members’ homes – along with everyone’s homes – would survive.
Finally, I (we) learned of these fates, one by one: My niece’s home escaped unharmed, as did my older brother’s home. Meanwhile, the fire made a Pickett’s Charge-like charge and overtook the backyard fence of my eldest brother’s home before being defeated.
As for the fate of my 91-year-old father’s home, a home he has lived in for 44 years, his home that holds so much of my late mom? Answer: a solemn shake of the head, “no.” It is gone. Memories from half of a long lifetime disappearing in flame and smoke in a cruel instant.
Thinking of my father and my (our) friends, co-workers, neighbors and everyone who lost their homes, I (we) feel “Home” Survivor Guilt.
Why did my (our) home survive and theirs did not?
There but for the grace of god, and the direction of the fickle winds, goes my (our) home instead of theirs.
Grace certainly was on abundant display. Our family members and friends naturally offered one another helping hands and shelter, food and drinking water, hugs and compassion – and so did strangers offer these same things to strangers.
In other words, in Latin, E pluribus unum – “out of many, one.”
Firefighters, as always, were heroes. In truth, however, most everyone rose to the occasion, standing tall and together like our famous “Two Trees. ” It seems a fitting simile, for while our iconic landmark was charred by the Thomas Fire, what it symbolizes – standing side by side as We-Trees – remains unconquerable.
I (we) have never been more heartbroken for my hometown, and yet conversely my heart has never been filled fuller for We-tura.
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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.
Check out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …