Westmont Magazine Our Only True Refuge
The fire destroyed 14 faculty homes in Las Barrancas.
Although my home in Las Barrancas did not burn, many others around the neighborhood did. This morning, as I returned to a book I am writing, “Living the Quieter Virtues in a Noisy World,” I began the introduction to a chapter on the virtue of generosity as follows.
“This sentence, the very one you are reading right now, is the first I have written since a fire raged through our neighborhood and took 14 of 41 homes.
“I am grieving for my good friends who lost their houses, some of whom walked out with little more than what they were wearing. And I stand dumbfounded as I look at the burn spots on our house and then at three of the four homes that encircle ours smoldering in ashes, copper pipes bent over, appliances standing out in the open.
“My stomach hurts. I’ve never been so exhausted and tense at the same time — and I have survivor guilt, a nagging feeling that our house should have gone down, that we did not deserve to be spared any more than our friends.
“The experience sends me a thousand different directions —but one place I’ve gone is to the beautiful reminder that generosity does not have anything to do with how much stuff we have. Bountiful offers of help have come in the form of sandwiches and clothes, temporary housing and money. People are begging to help: ‘Can I walk the dog, make pancakes, watch kids, repair windows, clean up the yard, or search through the rubble?’
“And those whose houses are gone have displayed generosity beyond comprehension. One calls other faculty to step up and be the leaders we need to be. Another asks if she is being too snippy with a recycling scavenger who comes by. I’m thinking, ‘You just lost your house. You can act however you want!’
“Others have said, ‘Well, we’ve wanted to simplify our lives!’
“Grateful to have each other, we can recognize God as our only True Refuge and Trustworthy Shelter.
“Our friends will mourn and rebuild — and we will rally ’round them. For all our human weakness, we can reach our hands into a deep river of compassion that flows through us. Too often, we leave its banks when times are easy, but we rush back to the sweet water when the suffering comes. It’s the image of God in us.”
— Published in the Santa Barbara News-Press Nov. 24; reprinted with permission.