Facing a Tragedy, the “805” Unites

1StrawberriesCoverWooden&Me_cover_PRFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Facing a Tragedy, the “805” Unites

A dear friend, having gone through hell and back, once told me a startling thing: she would not wish cancer upon an enemy, yet she was thankful for having had it.

Thankful? For tsunami-like waves of nausea caused by chemotherapy; for sickly weight loss and the loss of hair from radiation treatments; for bone-deep pain and ultra-marathon-like fatigue; for haunting fear?

Yes, she insisted, she was thankful for it all because through the tribulation she learned how strong she was. She found out who her truest friends were. And she had gained a new perspective on life.

As a result, she reframed her view of cancer as being a gift instead of a curse. Other cancer survivors have told me a similar thing.1help

As the days and weeks and now the first month have passed since the Thomas Fire metastasized across our county, consuming swaths of Santa Paul, Fillmore, Ventura, Ojai, and beyond, in pitiless cancer-like fashion, I have been reminded of my friend’s reframing.

I offer a similar reframing not callously, especially considering there were lives lost. Nor do I say it distantly, for my father’s hillside home of four decades was among those that became ashes and a standing chimney.

Rather, in addition to being a calamity, I can see the Thomas Fire as a cancer-survivor’s-like blessing. At the lowest of times, our communities stood their tallest. As homes were razed, we pulled together like an Amish barn raising.

Seemingly everyone became a Good Samaritan. Neighbors woke neighbors in the dark of a night eerily lighted by an orange glow and helped one another evacuate.

Strangers gave rides to strangers; trucked the horses of strangers to safety; opened their homes and offered spare beds to strangers.

So many donations of clothes came in to evacuation centers that new offerings finally had to be turned away.

A single illustration of generosity speaks as a wider example. Thirteen families, all renters at a mobile home park and all without contents insurance, lost everything they owned.

A humanitarian made a request at his church and on social media for replacement beds, blankets and bedding, sofas, dining tables, kitchenware, coffee makers, microwave ovens, TVs, air purifiers. Thirteen microwaves appeared the next day.

And everything else listed above, and more, for all 13 families was donated within 48 hours. Toys to give the affected children a semblance of a merry holiday also poured in.

Similar narratives were the rule, not the exception. Moreover, the Samaritan spirit continues.

It is not just people helping people, but businesses have been involved too. To mention one local business that has provided free services, free meals, free clothing, free this and free that, to those whose homes burned down – and to those who were evacuated long-term and also to the heroes who fought the fires – would be to leave out a hundred other businesses that did likewise.

The other day, I read a story shared by a man riding the “L” in Chicago that struck home. He was on his commute, on a bone-chilling Midwest day, and saw a homeless man seated across the train car.

The homeless man’s clothes were basically rags, his sneakers had holes, and blood seeped through his socks of which he wore three or four pairs in a losing effort to keep his feet warm.

A younger man entered the train, saw the homeless man, and did not hesitate to do something noble: he took off his own shoes – actually nearly new, expensive, heavy, black leather boots well-suited for Chicago’s harsh winters – and gave them to the older man in need.

There was more: the younger man pulled a pair of fresh socks from his briefcase and these he also gave the older man, along with some kind words.

Reading the story made my heart sing, and not just because of the obvious good done by one person for another.

The exchange also touched me because the young Samaritan reminded me of Ventura County, our “805” united as one.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck 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” …