Transformation Strikes Again

Mt. Calvary Retreat House, Santa Barbara CA
Mt. Calvary Retreat House, Santa Barbara CA

This may be one of the saddest photos I’ve viewed since 9/11, and that’s saying a lot. Our dear friends in the Order of Holy Cross suffered this tremendous loss yesterday in the California wildfire.

The descriptions of the fire are horrific: exploding trees and houses; people saving nothing more than themselves, a beloved animal companion, the clothes on their back; seventy-mile-an-hour winds; exhausted firefighters; shock; grief.

When 9/11 happened I was living in New York City. The after-effects of such a loss when you are right there are intensified dramatically. California is on the other side of our country, so I’m having a hard time grasping what our west coast friends are feeling today, given my own echoing sense of loss and sorrow.

A season of grief grips us, and we must live through it before the first fingers of hope can touch us with any comfort. Just as the land is covered with ash, our souls seem burned and buried. Our minds reel from one remembered loss to another; family pictures, a favorite chair, the antique vase passed down from great-great-grandmother, food, clothes, computers, a carefully-tended garden, years of creative effort … all of it, gone.

Advent, that dark, mystical season of hope, will soon be upon us; I find myself pondering, once again, how loss is integral to hope, and vice versa. When the smoke finally clears — over the land and from our hearts — we begin to notice new life appearing, the smallest of sprouts at first, all around us. Soon we will be able to look forward with that eternal sense of hope that indeed springs eternal within the human heart.

Eventually this loss, too, will find its place in our history, the raw emotional upheaval soothed into memory. When that happens, we realize yet again that death, in all its many faces, is our necessary companion. Finally, finally we are thankful.

In the meantime, we give ourselves over to our grief. It has its own work to do, its own worthy season.

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