Sow There!: Shaking out the knots by using your hands, Nov. 16, 2018

November 16, 2018 at 4:25 am

Lingering smoke isn’t the only thing hanging in the air. A cumulative heartache is drifting through the valley. You can literally hear it. My friend Michael and I went to Walmart soon after people fled their homes. I wanted a distraction; aimlessly shopping is better than the type of thinking that takes place in silence.

At the store, strangers talked about lost homes and cars, pets left behind. The brief chats often ended with the conclusion that all would work out well in the end.

This was before the empty land near the store became a tent city.

Folks seemed to be especially kind to one another that night, early in the tragedy, saying thank you and making room for one another in the aisles. Our clerk shared unsolicited snippets she had heard since the start of her shift.

RVs lined the back rows of the parking lot and food trucks had served meals to the many.

Yet, you can tell when a smile is a bit feigned, and I knew all of us were still very much in shock.

Those first few nights I stayed up until the wee hours, watching the 24-hour newscast and pouring over the Cal Fire incident report maps. I watched Paradise Post Editor Rick Silva on Facebook as he drove through neighborhoods that look like they were stomped by a dragon.

I don’t live in Paradise or Magalia, Butte Creek Canyon, Concow, Butte Valley or beyond. My home is safe. The only physical thing I can complain about is ash on my car and the need to wear my N95 face mask outdoors. However badly I am feeling (this hard-to-describe dull ache), is nothing like the jarring reality my displaced friends must walk through.

There are so many. So many people I genuinely love, who raced to a nearby couch or distant town to escape something huge and hot and scary.

Rather than make phone calls right away, I sat at home and made lists of people I knew had lost their homes. I added names of people who had probably lost homes. I scoured social media for reports that friends were OK, but I did not pick up the phone. I ate gallons of ice cream.

What’s interesting is that I was in the news business for 25 years. When tragedies occurred, and there were many, we raced toward them. Camera in hand and a notepad on the passenger-side seat, there isn’t time to think. You go, you do, you think later.

With time on my hands, words failed me. I convinced myself that whatever I said to friends would be an interruption. How could an unhappy face or a trite “I’m so sorry” on Facebook make a hoot of difference when something so bad had happened?

Then a friend called to give voice to her own angst. “I can’t stand this. I feel like I need to be doing something,” she said.

Frankly, I wanted to go to the movies. I wanted to escape. I wanted to eat more ice cream.

She was right of course. The best way to drown out the uncomfortable noise in your head is to do something with your hands. We helped. I felt better.

Just a day later, the snippets I overheard at the evacuation center were not as hope-filled. People were searching for loved ones, others needed a cellphone charger. The line at the shower was long and children had grown bored with coloring books. Volunteer coordinators needed a long nap.

However, I had forgotten about the knot in my own stomach.

Afterwards, was I able to make phone calls. Only then could I hassle people who had not signed up for the Safe and Well website. I sent simple texts to say “thinking of you,” and posted dozens of unhappy faces on social media.

Sometimes you need a friend to remind you how to cope with reality.

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