Family watching a wildfire in the distance in the summer of 2020.
Photo by Caleb Cook / Unsplash

No, I am not celebrating the terrible loss of life and property that people everywhere are being subjected to. This is much bigger

My dearest friend Melissa went to Bhutan a few years back, a trip which left her utterly transformed. That small country, which is in close proximity to Nepal and India, is one of the happiest countries on earth. They are Buddhist. Melissa wanted to immerse herself in whatever it was they were living, to see if she could learn something from their example.

The Bhutanese live with the immediate reality of death as a transformational and wonderful rite of passage. They are aware of its possibility at any time. As a result, they are more likely to live in the moment, which allows them a lot more joy than their Western distant cousins.

We Westerners fear death, deny its existence. As result, I believe we cheat ourselves out of the potential for living right here, right now. Celebrating this moment. You and I can sagely agree that we never know when it's our time, right? We eat well, exercise, and then we get T-boned in an intersection by a texting teenager.

We didn't live in the here and now.

At a fire preparedness meeting the other night I listened to a policewoman (more on her in a sec) talk about having been in Maui two weeks before the fire. She reported that many people ran back into their houses for stuff. The fire moved so swiftly that they lost their lives.


I am well aware, having had some seriously bad accidents and injuries that nearly took me out, how swiftly life can end. I'd lived with Colorado wildfires for fifty years, almost lost my home in 2002. These last few years as the summer fires here in Oregon fill the sky with dense smoke and all our communities are on high alert, I am feeling very differently about loss, and life.

To that, no matter what your disaster potential, please see this:

Ready, Set, Go! - Ready for Wildfire
Wildfire is coming... are you ready?

I love my home. I also know that the huge picture windows which allow me to see the firs and forests just outside my home could shatter in The Big One and slice me in half in half a second. Or that a wildfire driven  by high winds could sweep through here and every single thing I have will be gone, but for what is packed in my go bags and in my memories.

Those facts, that all of us are necessarily on high alert all the time because PEOPLE DIDN'T LISTEN OVER THE YEARS ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE, are in fact a gift.

We are being taught to Be Here Now. That doesn't mean I am dancing on the pain of those who have suffered terrible losses. It does mean that I realize that such losses may well be imminent. In doing this, I am slowly detaching myself from my stuff, and spending more time focusing on being in life. Be Here Now.

Those old enough to remember Ram Dass recall this mantra of his. It's in my face all the time every day now. I look out onto my garden, I breathe in the air, I touch the leaves and gaze out over my small plot with deep and abiding appreciation.

It could be ashes in a moment. I live in what's called WUI, or

Wildfire and the wildland urban interface (WUI)
Resources to help fire departments and communities prepare for and respond to a WUI fire.

Many of us, hoping to be surrounded by trees, now have encroached onto areas which sustain our love of trees. Our presence here threatens wildlife and all the woods we love. That's painful for me to embrace, but it's where I have always wanted to live. It's where I grew up, surrounded by forests, in central Florida.

These days it's a tenuous place to be. Hell, anywhere on this ball is tenuous. For my living vibrantly dollar, that very fact is what I appreciate the most. It's forcing me to be so grateful for what I see, what I experience, the people in my life, the air I breathe RIGHT NOW.

I never thought I would ever be able to live more in the moment. Am now. I am also deeply sorry that it's taken so many years and so many disasters for me to come to this point. But I am grateful beyond words to be able to embrace all my experiences, recognizing that they may, indeed, end at any moment. There are some six hundred Salem residents who are under a Level Two (SET) evac notice right now, which could move to Level Three (GO NOW) at any second.

In seconds, you hear the GO NOW, and you run like hell. If you're not ready, you leave and may have to live with nothing but the clothing on your back.

We in the Western world are so busy minding our waistlines and worrying about our health and distracting ourselves with so much that doesn't matter that when we are faced with our imminent demise, we suddenly wonder what on earth was so damned important about any of it.

When your home is gone, and you're about to be swallowed into the earth, or a floor or fire is seconds away, stuff doesn't much matter any more.

Today I bought a fire extinguisher for my home, a safety detail that I didn't realize I didn't have. It might save my life.

It might not.

The point is that I am seriously preparing. You should, too. You and I should know what threats are close to us, develop a go bag, and know alternate routes out of our neighborhoods.

I'm also very aware that the life I came to Oregon to live may be fleeting. Every morning that I wake up to the sweet green that surrounds this house, the soft breezes that move my Japanese maple, the gift of Nature that feeds my soul, I lie in bed for about ten minutes just to say thank you.

The Big One may never come. The wildfires may always pass us by. I have no clue. However, I'm ready to release everything I have in this house to conflagration or to shifting tectonic plates.

My attachment to stuff could kill me in a climate-driven disaster. I've already let it all go emotionally, but for the few truly necesssary supplies which are piled next to my car. There they may stay for years. Or next week.

Or tonight.

I'll leave you with two stories. First, the lovely police woman, Janina, whom I mentioned above has her own story about dealing with death. When Covid hit, that wasn't all she dealt with. Some of you may appreciate this if you've ever had aggressive cancer:

COVID, Chaos and Cancer. How to stay positive when faced with the three C’s. - Oregon Surgical Wellness
Surviving the three C’s. Janina shares her cancer journey.

Janina brought her bubbly energy into my house a while back and helped me harden it against crime. She was having to harden herself against cancer, yet her energy and effusiveness were what I recall. I was delighted to be reconnected to her and be able to share her story here. NOTHING teaches us appreciation for life more than facing imminent death.

Finally, the great Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh wrote about how we need to release ourselves from certain notions, in this regard, that there is a lifespan.
A beginning and an ending. That causes us untold suffering.

Free from Fear
When we are not fully present, we are not really living

I do indeed write about lifespan, for it is in our vernacular. However increasingly I am coming to Thích Nhất Hạnh's version of it, and it is incredibly freeing.

You and I can live fully in the moment, see that despite our terrible fears we are eternal. I believe we are. We can appreciate who we are, who and what we have around us, and be consumed by gratitude.

Every living moment. Right up until we become part of something else. There's a lot to be grateful for. I hope we all find ways to see that even in the midst of all this loss, for there truly is great gain in letting go.

Photo by Marcus Dall Col / Unsplash

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