On Sunday morning the strong wind outside our windows whipped the tall redwoods and eucalyptus trees into a frenzy. Smoky air, electrical outage, it was time to go.
I grabbed the bags I'd packed the night before as my daughter cried, "Mama but what if our house burns down!?"
"Our house will probably be fine, sweetheart," I told her. How could I come up with the right words to soothe a child sensing the intensity of a nearby wildfire? She said goodbye to her papa, tears in her eyes bringing tears to his. It was a sad and beautiful moment.
Now five days later, I sit in the home of a close friend, 180 miles away. Air here is clean, my daughter and I are comfortable and feel good about leaving the scene in our hometown.
Life normally isn't frenzied. Earth is warming, fires and winds are strong, these are a new kind of times yet they've become the norm. Somehow it seems to me that life, in all its bold human courage and humble wild whispering, is messy. Just like an evacuation. All the pieces are strung about in "normal" life just like they are during wildfires.
I've come close to dying a few times.
Once was on a plane during a typhoon above China. Once was on a river in India. There were more, and was this fun? Never. But has it been helpful, in the way it opened my awareness to the fact that we are mortal? Showed me my body will die, as will everyone else's, even in a culture that likes to pretend we will not?
Yes, yes. Seeing death a few feet from my nose has been helpful.
When people say, "I'm sorry" about the evacuation, I thank them for being sensitive and yet I notice that I've felt nothing tough about it. I don't need "I'm sorry."
My house can burn, I may cry a bit and miss my piano and my baskets of greeting cards and pens... but if I am alive... if my daughter and husband are alive... I am rich! There is nothing to mourn long about.
Having lived many messes, some caused by my fear and some by others', I know in my bones life is messy. It is actually freedom, to know this. No longer do I try to keep all the pieces together within myself or in my outer world. It's OK to be messy! It is... natural.
From where I sit, two 9-year-old girls chat on walkie-talkies about whether one of them is going "number t-w-o or number o-n-e." Ha! As they spell out the difference between pee and poo, I feel an amused spark in my belly about the mess of life.
It is wonderful to have a home to go back to, that isn't burned down. While I extend deep compassion to those who have lost homes and businesses, wineries and cars, in these fires, I also extend an invitation to all of us to BE OK WITH THE MESS. Life is a mess. When we breathe in and out accepting that, we fight the natural flow of all the pieces less.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a lifelong letter writer, Love-based leader and eternal fan of Mr. Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.