The phantom smell of smoke still tingles my nose as I take a deep breath and look out the window of my sister’s house. The Sierra Nevada’s rise like soldiers outside: lumbering, protecting. In order to escape the smoke from the fires, I drove my children for hours and hours today to arrive at my sister’s doorstep in the mountains. After 4 days under the smoke, my lungs – and my anxiety about my children’s lungs – had had enough. But all that I can do tonight after the kids have been put safely to sleep in their cousins’ room, is scan the news and social media for updates from my family and friends. While our dear California wine country burned, my husband stayed back, his office still untouched by the flames, his work still calling him in amid the smoke. Our house was safe. Our neighborhood was never placed under evacuation orders. But so, so many were.
On that first day, I immediately saw my Facebook feed turn into an efficient machine of information, connecting the dots between those in need, and those offering resources.
“This,” I thought, “This is the glory of social media at it’s finest!” My mommy friends and I have been in constant communication on Messenger this entire time. Even now a I type, my computer bleeps with another message notification.
We, as a mommy community, have experienced the spectrum within the past few days.
We have evacuated our homes. We have hosted the displaced. We have packed our cars in case we needed to go. We have fallen apart. We have had panic attacks and nightmares. We have held our children. We have cooked dinner, staring blankly out at the smokey skies. We have turned outward: taking our anxious energy and launching social media campaigns collecting gift cards to distribute to displaced families we know all around us. We have turned inward, and found it difficult to finish a thought, let alone fold the laundry staring at us for 3 days. We have been isolated in our houses with our children for days on end, trying to break up fights with our own nerves frayed. We have driven out into the smoke to meet up at the indoor play areas that have waved admission, since all schools have been closed. We have shared whatever information we have heard about the next path of the fire, and the next wave of evacuations. We have glued our eyes to our computers and smartphones, letting our children help themselves to another bowl of cereal. We have turned off our screens to look our children in the face, almost surprised to see them, as we were so lost in worry. We have gone numb. We have talked. We have gone silent. We have stayed. And we have left.
I think it’s important to record the details of these past days: when a firestorm blew through our community, tearing the land apart, and tying the people together.
I’ve found an interesting psychological phenomenon at work in my brain during this crisis: As the enormity of the devastation rises incomprehensible before me, my brain remembers the details in technicolor. The faces of the mommies I have hugged, and the words beeping into my message feed, these details have shone the brightest.