May 11 2009
(Written Thursday, May 7)
I look out my window on this dark night and watch in frightened awe the wind-whipped Jesusita fire glowing in terrible beauty for 5 miles across the Santa Barbara mountains. My heart pounds as I see that a portion of it is racing towards us! There are urgent sounds of sirens, helicopters, planes, and a roaring wind; it sounds like war. During the day the winds had died down, and the fire slept (after destroying 75 homes the night before); it seemed we were safe. But the sundowner winds awakened the fire with startling speed into a house-devouring monster that is now spreading out of control. We are on the outside edge of the evacuation zone and are faced with the question, “What do we take with us? What is important? What can we do without?”
I am adrenalized and frantically packing essentials. Then Tom and I stop what we’re doing and look at each other; holding our gaze, he tells me, “Whatever happens, we will be fine.” I take a deep breath; I know what he means. We know how to come fully into the moment, into the here and now, and be in that state of grace where everything works out. That is our “Trust” fund, which we have access to at any time. Even if we were living in a newspaper tent under the freeway, if we are in the moment, in that state of trust, we are safe.
During the course of this fire, flashes of awareness have been coming to me that cancer is like a fire. My cancer is apparently “out”, but the doctor said there is a medium risk of recurrence; there are possible embers that could be whipped into a raging fire again, a body devouring monster, spreading out of my control – like my imagination! Sometimes I am aware of a frantic energy in me, trying to make myself relax; afraid that stress, like the wind, could whip the embers of cancer back to monstrous life. Then I am reminded of my “trust” fund, and I take a deep breath, knowing that I will be fine no matter what happens.
It is now Sunday. Over the last three days the marines landed and saved Santa Barbara! – the marine layer that is, blanketing us all in cool, moist protection. I am letting out a big sigh of relief. Tom and I went to a dance today where people gathered to commune, and share in our mutual experience of having been under siege and having survived. There were people at the dance whose homes had burnt to the ground; they had come to dance their pain of loss and their joy of community and survival. Dancing can be an act of healing ourselves. Animal’s bodies naturally tremble once danger has passed, releasing the energy of the trauma. Dancing is a way to do the same.
I danced my body in rocking, shaking, releasing movements; like a salt shaker, releasing salty sweat and tears as my heart welled with compassion for those who had lost their homes. This spilled over into compassion for all of us who have had great losses in our lives: homes, breasts, uteruses, relationships. Dancing, shaking, releasing stress and deep sadness, moving through the wreckage, rising from the ashes, as passion comes, igniting flames of rebirth and celebration – such is the dance of life.
Fires are a natural part of life. They serve a beneficial purpose. The fires in our personal lives can do the same, but that depends on how we choose to look at things. Perhaps it is no coincidence that last week there was a Buddhist sand painting exhibit here, which was exquisitely detailed and beautiful. On the last day of the exhibit they purposely destroyed it, demonstrating the transitory nature of material life and a letting go of attachment to how things are.
It is freeing to learn how much we can let go of; whether it’s a lost home, relationship, or uterus; we manage to rise from the ashes and recover our passion to recreate our lives. The human spirit has wings, like the phoenix, that carry us to new heights and new life.
Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.” Victor Hugo
What is really important to you? What is it you would take with you if you had to leave your house? What do you want to take with you when you leave this life? I’m taking my “trust” fund!