What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Last year, the Thomas fire wreaked havoc on different parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara County. Of course, being unaffected at that time, I safely kept one eye on the news and the other on the gingerbread cookies in the oven. Both my ears were honed in on my Michael Buble playlist with hot chocolate in one hand and a candy cane in the other.

I was safe and provided for; the reality for many Californians seemed like a far-fetched nightmare far from my safety zone.

This year’s reality was quite sobering. This year we aren’t the privileged watchers of the news, we are the news.

Ashes decorated my roof, replaced the strung, colored lights, as the evacuations orders rang in my ears instead of Mariah Carey.

Fortunately, I took solace in the fact that the holiday season isn’t about decorations and overplayed Christmas music, it’s about gratitude and giving — these fires have given way for both.

Over the last few weeks, many have lost houses or valuables to the Camp, Hill and Woolsey fires that have swept through Southern California, and some have even lost family members or friends.

Some lost loved ones at Borderline.

With all this tragedy saturating our lives, it’s hard to be grateful there’s something to be grateful for. Perhaps the holiday season will help lift the veil of literal smoke clouding our vision to reveal that we are fortunate for so many reasons.

Allow me to attempt to start what I hope will become a chain of acknowledgments of gratitude.

My family and friends are alive, and my home was spared. Even as I write these words, they feel empty. I should be grateful, my brain realizes that much, but my emotions aren’t aligned.

It’s not even that I’m spoiled with privileges, it’s that the simple things I used to take comfort in, like the haven of a home, no longer provide the same comfort they once did.

I even abhor the drive to my house. I feel as though by simply being here, I’m intentionally inviting danger. The trees burnt to a crisp, the bare mountains and random animal carcasses trigger the flight part of my “flight or fight” response that I have to ignore because my house is in the middle of this new haunted house-esque nightmare.

We all imagine our homes to be a refuge of sorts, but when a tragedy like this strikes, the homes we’ve made turn right back into plain old houses, memories tear to expose scaffolding and sanctuary burns to boards and nails.

Perhaps gratitude extends beyond the material, perhaps what we should be grateful for is the community we’ve built here. Amidst all this chaos, we emerged in unity. All the things that appear to divide us — race, sex and political affiliations — they all disappeared, and a phoenix of a community appeared.

A Costco trip on the Saturday after the fire exposed at least 10 different shoppers, all there to buy materials for the firefighters. Everywhere you turned, a sign is posted, thanking firefighters and first-responders for risking their lives to keep ours safe.

This community was forced to endure a shooting and a fire within the same 24 hours. Yet tragedy did not stop us from being able to stand by one another.

A shooting will not steal our hope, a fire will not burn our resolve.

With a full heart, I can say I’m grateful for every friend who allowed me to cry on their shoulder, to every friend that checked in on me as we had a mass exodus out of Oak Park, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, Malibu, etc.

I am grateful for the community of firefighters that saved my house and every other house in SoCal, grateful for the community that rose to the occasion and exuded compassion in a time of chaos.

Happy holidays, everyone, and thank you for being part of my community — our community.