I’ve lost a firstborn daughter. I’ve struggled through a messy divorce. I’ve discovered that I can rise to the occasion during the most stressful periods of life.
The sun shone red through the murky gray. My eyes burned, and my throat felt like sandpaper. It was just a short jaunt to the store for a little exercise and a six-pack of Black Butte. I was reminded: my state is on fire.
I’m sure you’ve seen the news. Washington State is burning up. Hell, by the looks of it, half of the West Coast is on fire. I live about 200 miles south of the Okanogan Complex Fire, the biggest fire in Washington State history. The sky is flooded with smoke.
What’s a man to do? I’m not a firefighter. I can’t go outside for any length of time. The air is unhealthy. The darkness lingers all day, bringing a smoky-blue feeling that borderlines depression. I could crawl into a hole and hibernate until the smoke clears. What would you do?
My first responsibility is to my family:
I have a ten-year-old daughter, Annie. I’m a single dad. My first response is to keep her safe and healthy. I make sure she doesn’t spend too much time outside. According to www.lung.org, the following precautions should be taken for the smoke caused by wildfire disasters:
- Stay indoors
- Don’t exercise outside
- Take precautions for kids
- Roll up car windows
- Put air conditioners on recirculate
- Watch breathing issues after exposure
Like any good dad, I keep these things in mind as I monitor Annie’s day-to-day activities: school, play, outdoor time. But what do I do for myself?
I’m a college instructor. It’s summer vacation. I’d planned to start training on my bicycle in the late summer. Annie was looking forward to some bike time, too. We’ve been smoked out. Now I’m stuck inside. I need to improvise.
A fire outside, a fire within:
I could sit around and watch TV. I could listen to sports radio. But those aren’t things I’d normally do. I’m a creative man. I write. I play music. I blog. As tragic as this fire is, it seems to have spread into my soul and inspired me. It’s as if the flames that are burning 200 miles to the north are jumping into my psyche, causing my mind to phoenix with ideas. I’m like a burning man; my fingers flying up and down the guitar and across my computer keyboard, writing songs and blog posts. I’m restless with ideas. My sleep pattern is disrupted. So what have I learned?
- I’ve learned to stand tall in the face of disaster: When I was a kid, I was the child victim of a cult. In my book, A Train Called Forgiveness, I relive that tragedy and its damaging after-effects. Through that writing, I learned that a man needs to be strong, stand tall, and walk on, even in the face of disaster. I respond to this sky full of smoke in the same way. I don’t let it bring me down. Instead, I bunker up with my hobbies and dreams and move forward by continuing to follow my ambitions. I won’t be blinded by the smoke.
- I’ve learned to never underestimate a man’s response to tragedy: I’ve lost a firstborn daughter. I’ve struggled through a messy divorce. I’ve discovered that this man seems to rise to the occasion during the most stressful periods of life. When the sky is filled with ugly brown smoke, I rise above it. I can still walk in the clear blue sky of my perseverance and imagination.
- I’ve learned to be patient: The smoke will clear. Many times, it’s easy to become convinced that we’ll never get through the storms of life. That’s a lie. We can and we will. Hard times come, and they go. We can sulk, wasting precious energy, or we can work through the storm with enduring patience. The smoke is like a dream. There will be a blue-sky celebration on the other side.
So what has this man learned from living within a sky full of smoke? I’ve learned something I’ve inherently already known. I’m a creature of endless strength. I can defy the odds and achieve more, even when it feels like the world is burning all around me.
I wait for rain. Even the strongest of men need rain. Rain puts the fire out. It allows for temporary rest, until the next fire. Pray with me for rain. Pray, that rain will come into this great state of Washington and drench the flames that are consuming our forests and our souls.
Photo: Flickr/ Evan Leeson