I spent the last few days in a community that showed up and had the courage to make room for empathy and compassion. The Valley Fire, in Lake County, California started on Saturday afternoon and grew rapidly burning several homes and displacing thousands.
There was such an outpouring of generosity, support and love for victims of the fire. Some people just wanted to have someone listen to them and spoke about their loss, fear and even hope. As they spoke, I could feel the inner stirring of compassion. I wanted to say the right words, but realized that I needed to just listen.
Others needed basic items like a toothbrush and a pair of socks. “All I wanted was a pair of socks, the weather started getting cooler and I found myself fixating on socks” a women told me as we searched for clothing in her size. She was thrilled to find a pair of socks and smiled with tears in her eyes.
I thought about the socks I was wearing and wondered if I had ever felt that much gratitude towards them or any of my clothing. That moment, I offered gratitude for my socks and realized that every little thing is precious; even socks.
Every day, several people just wanted to help those in need. People from surrounding communities held fundraisers and clothing drives. Deliveries of donated goods showed up by the truckloads. Everyone seemed to want to help. People who had been evacuated and then returned home, turned around and volunteered. It was truly amazing to witness.
This experience left me in tears several times. I did not understand exactly what it felt like to lose things in a fire, but I understand loss at a visceral level and was able to extend empathy. I noticed the same from other volunteers who extended themselves vulnerably to meet people in the midst of their pain.
Through compassion and empathy, we are able to connect with people on a deeper level. The ability to be there and stand in the discomfort with another person while they hurt is powerful. I recalled the people who have extended compassion and empathy towards me in the past and was able to overcome my initial discomfort because of those examples.
Loss isn’t easy. This fire left many people without homes and communities need to rebuild from the loss. However, seeing the humanity, compassion and empathy displayed so greatly reminded me that overall, people are good. Sometimes, in the face of suffering we shine our brightest for its in the darkness that our lights are needed the most.
Note: The efforts to help restore the community as well as continued firefighting efforts are ongoing. If you would like to help from afar, here is a great website with a list of needs and locations for donation drop-offs: www.lovelakecounty.org