Last night, I woke up at midnight sharp, to this text from my upstairs neighbor:
“Hi! Sorry for the late text, but howie and I noticed a weird burning smell coming from our windows. Do you smell anything strange??”
I flipped on all the lights and peeked into the backyard, expecting to find an intruder burning a trash bin, the bizarre image my half-awake mind had conjured up.
Seeing no one back there, I walked outside to see if I could smell anything. I did, and also heard sirens that sounded somewhat distant but sufficiently loud to signal grim news.
I took to Facebook—my source for hearing about all the small earthquakes we’ve had and I didn’t feel since I joined social media—and saw a post my neighbor three blocks down had published ten minutes before, explaining that San Francisco smelled weird because Santa Rosa, sixty miles north, was on fire.
I updated my upstairs neighbors and checked the Facebook page of a Santa Rosa friend with whom I’d just spent the day for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Finding no safety update there, and having no other contact information for her, I returned to sleep.
Upon checking my friend’s page this morning, I learned she was safe and ready to evacuate if necessary. A handful of other friends had also checked in safe on the platform. One wrote that as she fled to San Francisco last night, she saw over 100 ambulances headed north from here, sirens blaring.
As I walked outside, the city smelled like a campfire. Flecks of ash circled the air on the bus.
The Santa Rosa footage is devastating. The sensory evidence sixty miles south makes the tragedy feel more real than it would otherwise, but I still struggle to believe it.
I’m no biblical scholar, but it seems we’re living inside one of the last chapters. As Jimmy Kimmel said last week, it feels like someone has opened the door to Hell.
I write weekly stories to my six nieces and two nephews, in response to questions they take turns asking me. Every Monday morning, I receive the question I am to answer that week.
This morning, my email inbox revealed the following question from my niece Molly, who turns five this weekend: “What do you miss most about being a child?”
I will spare Molly my immediate thought: When I was her age, I didn’t feel compelled to maniacally check Facebook all day and night, to find out which parts of the country are now on fire and which are under water; and I didn’t receive midnight texts alerting me to apocalyptic blazes sixty miles away.
My mind keeps searching for a country to which I can flee, to escape the horrors of our current political landscape. Failing to find a place that doesn’t have some equivalent in its history, or can’t protect me from knowing my country is in tatters even if its own record is clean, I’ve thought I would settle for living under a rock.
As it turns out, you can’t hide from a whole planet. So I’ll manage the worry and try not to scream too loudly on social media—or should I be turning up the volume? Can’t gauge it—and will live in the moment with my loved ones to the best of my ability.
After all, as the cliche goes, the present is all we have.