Embracing Opportunity As We Rise from the Ashes
As this article is being written, over 30,000 firefighters are currently battling more than 70 major wildfires that have so far burned 3.7 million acres across the United States. As a whole, America has been affected by over 43,500 wildfires, which have destroyed over seven million acres of our country in total, just in 2020; this equates to over a million more acres burned than the 10-year average, and this year isn’t over yet.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Many of us can count ourselves lucky; we have a roof over our heads, walls surrounding us, clean air to breathe, our possessions, our communities, our pets, our families…our lives.
Others – in the paths of these fires, however, have not been so lucky.
Those and their families who were forced to evacuate their houses took one last look at the place they called home, wondering if they would ever see it again, but knowing there was a strong possibility they wouldn’t. Others in this displaced category still don’t know; they just wait and hope.
Some were lucky to just escape their homes at the last moment with only the clothes on their back, while still others lost their lives in the fires, or lives of their pets, or lives of their loved ones.
What does one do in situations like this, where they feel they have lost everything? How does one process the myriad of feelings of disbelief, anger, sadness, and depression that threaten to consume them further, where the fires left off? The thought of rebuilding all that is lost seems exhausting, insurmountable, and unobtainable; after all, rebuilding will, and can never replace, what once was.
Perhaps in these cases of natural disasters or any other adversity, a new mindset is required and one that could make all the difference.
What thoughts and feelings arise when people think of “rebuilding”? The use of this word equates to a loss of some type, more often than not a major loss to a structure or other material thing. There is an urgency to recreate the thing which was lost, which in the spirit of things has its merit; however, the “rebuilding” mindset can prove to be problematic and limiting. “Rebuilding” no doubt, acknowledges the loss, and the desire to recreate what was lost in its entirety. However, one can never truly “rebuild”. Materials used towards this labor will be different, so fundamentally, a structure literally cannot be exactly rebuilt. Rebuilding has a backward-looking mentality, with disregard for what could be.
On the other hand, “building” can contain limitless possibilities. Think of the millions of immigrants who came to America with a dream. They left everything behind in their mother countries: friends, families, communities, possessions, and more, to come to a new country with the wish to build a new life – a better life than what they had. Although in no way is this a direct comparison to the losses suffered brought on by these wildfires and other natural disasters which have destroyed homes and communities, this mindset can come in handy in these times, too. When one builds, they are not limited by the past. Building has an expanse to it – the promise of the infinite. Rebuilding is finite. With building, there are new choices, new ideas, unlimited options. Building gives us the opportunity to learn from a former build, and to make the new build better; better tailored to our lives, with even further room for growth and expansion. When one thinks of having to rebuild, the premise can be exhausting – it can feel like starting at the very beginning to recreate what we had, what we were used to, and that can also feel insurmountable. When we release the past and start afresh (which invariably needs to be done after losing a home or a community), we allow ourselves time to reassess, and as a compassionate side effect, building gives us the opportunity to fine-tune and progress to something better for our ever-changing lives, right out of the ashes.
So, where do you begin to build when you find yourself and your family at a shelter, hotel, or staying with a friend or family after such a devastating loss? How does one start to build again from their personal Ground Zero?
It may begin with just one suitcase.
A suitcase is such a small thing, but it’s something to build from. Each family member should have their own suitcase so you can immediately mobilize until you get to your destination. This may be a new way of conceptualizing things, but think about how you can survive for up to six months with just one suitcase. Think about its contents, which should not be complex. Even if you equip it with just two pairs of shoes – flip-flops for summer and sturdier shoes for winter – and two changes of clothes, at least you have that suitcase, at least you can survive – for now. Take it a day at a time, the way all humans should approach life, really. This is the moment you begin to build. Remember: nothing lasts forever. We all have an opportunity to learn from these fires and to move forward with our memories of happier times to fuel us to build a future – full of new opportunities, new experiences, and limitless possibilities.
As a wider, country-based community, we Americans need to come together as a society to support and to help mobilize those who have lost so much during these times.
We can focus on becoming part of the solution. As a unified, collective force, we can help build lives again, and prove that out of the ashes there is still hope, there is still life and there are always opportunities for new beginnings when we build together.