On Wednesday, June 15th, 2016, my wife Diana and I saw a large cloud of smoke rising high above the White River Apache Reservation in northeastern Arizona. This massive cloud of smoke would become known as the Cedar Fire. From the sheer size, color and location of the gigantic plume towering over our community, we instinctively knew we were about to embark on a precarious journey. A wildfire is dynamic, unpredictable and indiscriminate. The Cedar Fire did not disappoint. Over the next 8 days, my wife and I would have an opportunity to practice much of what I have written about and taught for over a decade. In short, the Cedar Fire provided me an opportunity to walk my talk.
If you follow my work, you know that I encourage my audience to focus on gratitude, compassion, faith, trust and to let go of material and emotional attachments. Over the past decade, I have written two books and over four hundred articles related to the dynamics of human behavior. The Cedar fire certainly illuminated the inherent goodness of people, especially when confronted with a tragedy or potential threat. With that being said, we will always have a minority of people who would find something wrong with winning the lottery.
A TALE OF TWO PEOPLE
A few days ago, I enjoyed a conversation with one of our local fire heroes. He shared a story of what three of his fellow fire fighters had experienced on day four of the Cedar Fire. These three heroes had come in from the fire line to purchase groceries at a local market. While waiting in the check out line, they overheard a conversation between a female customer and the stores manager. The customer was upset because these men had come into the store and were so “smelly and filthy”. She demanded the store manager do something about this situation as it was making her uncomfortable. One can only imagine the utter disconnect these brave heroes were experiencing as they left the store to return to the dangerous job of protecting her property.
Another story involved a woman who lives on a fixed income yet despite her limited resources CHOSE to purchase cases of water and several pizzas which she personally delivered to the fire command center. She “wanted to do something nice for all of the people who were working so hard to save her home”.
Talk about two ENTIRELY different perspectives!
NOTHING BRINGS A COMMUNITY TOGETHER LIKE A GOOD OLD FASHIONED WILDFIRE…
On day two of our pre evacuation status, I jokingly said to my neighbor, “nothing brings a community together like a good old fashioned wildfire”. In truth, this is exactly what Diana and I experienced during the first few days of the Cedar Fire. Our neighbors communicated with each other on a daily basis, meals were prepared and shared, wine was poured and laughter, albeit apprehensive, filled the smoky air. Several of our friends and neighbors were off the mountain but still managed to check in daily to see how we were doing. Even from afar, we remained connected.
When I was asked to pen this article from a spiritual perspective, I readily accepted the challenge. During our three hour drive from the White Mountains to our home in Phoenix (we had chosen to self evacuate on day 8 as I was having some respiratory challenges due to the thick smoke and the lingering effects from a three year bought with Valley Fever) Diana and I had a chance to decompress and talk about all of the things we were reminded of during our week of uncertainty.
GRATITUDE. Fortunately, as of this writing our home is still standing in the middle of a beautiful forest. During the course of the Cedar Fire, Diana and I found ourselves revisiting many of the wonderful memories created during our time on the mountain. We also talked about all of the amazing people God had brought into our life. Our gratitude overwhelmed our fear of potential loss and helped us remain grounded. We practiced an attitude of gratitude and it truly had a calming effect on our psyche.
FAITH. Faced with uncertainty, we must have faith in God’s plan. My wife has always described faith as “trusting in that which you cannot see or do not know”. Admittedly, this is a hard thing to do. As the days wore on, many in our community began to express frustration and outrage with the lack of communication from the fire lines. It’s hard to have faith in the face of fear. Fear is a bi product of the unknown. It was calming and refreshing to hear many of our friends and neighbors speak over their fear. “This to shall pass”, if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it” and “it’s in Gods hands now” were some of the uplifting messages spoken throughout our community. I was inspired.
COMPASSION. In any natural disaster, there are many whose only evacuation option is to stay at a local shelter. Not knowing if we would have a place to call home was quite humbling yet we found ourselves thinking about the plight of those who are less fortunate than us and we routinely thanked God for blessing the Burton’s with more than enough of everything. Everyone in our neighborhood had somewhere to go and like us, most have a home somewhere else. With that being said, I know many of us were putting on a brave face as the thought of losing our home was indeed troubling. I couldn’t help but think how difficult this would be for those without options. Engaging in heartfelt conversations with our friends and neighbors was cathartic.
TRUST. My wife and I are type A personalities. We are used to making key decisions and driving desired outcomes. We realized from the onset that we had absolutely NO control over the scenario that was unfolding and we would have to trust the firefighters to deliver us from harms way. I must admit this was a very humbling feeling as both Diana and I are solution oriented. We resolved to let go and let the fire heroes do their job! Our trust paid off!
ATTACHMENT. When faced with the prospect of a short notice evacuation, one must quickly prioritize what is irreplaceable and quickly come to terms with leaving everything else behind. As mentioned earlier, I have earned a living speaking and writing about the need to let go of our attachments. By day three I found myself wanting to rent a U Haul truck to transport “my stuff” to a storage facility that was out of harms way. Luckily, trust and faith kicked in (plus there was a run on the local U Haul store, ha ha) and I was able to practice the sacred art of “letting go and letting God”. Letting go of our attachments is a much more peaceful way of being.
Soon, the Cedar Fire will be characterized as an extremely close call. It was! The fire instilled fear in many, in others a newfound awareness of the realities associated with living inside a sprawling forest and for at least one person, a sense of relief that our markets won’t be over run with “filthy, smelly”, public safety workers. My hope is that eventually everyone realizes that it doesn’t take “a good old fashioned wildfire to bring a neighborhood together”, it takes conversation.
John Page Burton is a freelance writer and the author of Wisdom Through Failure, Guiding Principles for Life & Business (2014) and Knowing Sh#t From Shinola, Conquering Life One Breakthrough At A Time (2015) To learn more about John visit http://www.johnpageburton.com