I heard the winds before I saw and smelled the smoke. Around here, we have great weather most of the time, but when the Santa Ana winds come, we baton down the hatches and wait for the howling, hot winds to pass.
A month ago, I would have rushed out into the back yard and tried to prop up my rickety fence, hoping beyond hope that the boards I wedged beneath it would keep it from being pushed over by the punishing winds.
However, this time around, I looked at my brand new fence, recently built by my friend David. It’s solid, every board screwed in place, and every post planted firmly in concrete.
What relief I felt at knowing my fence was strong.
Then I saw the dark clouds in the distance and I stepped outside. I could smell the smoke. A fire was raging in the somewhere in the nearby mountains. My stomach tightened. The dry conditions and the winds would surely add up to trouble.
I looked at my fence and realized that my sense of security in my fence meant nothing to a fire that would simply sneer at my feeble attempt at defense and lick up the wood on its way to bigger game.
So many of my friends are going through rough times right now. Job loss, cancer, depression, legal issues, and foreclosure have plagued individuals I love. Two have recently lost parents; another recently faced the unexpected death of her brother. One friend stands by her phone expecting word of her mother’s death any minute now.
The list is long and I ache for their suffering. I see them search for emotional lumber with which to fortify their fences. Even though it may be only an illusion of protection and shelter, I help when I can, for it is a necessary illusion.
In the distance, there are fires that burn and capricious winds that howl.
Years ago, our beloved cat Donald got trapped in the dryer and was tumbled around in the high heat for ten minutes. He was near death when he came out, but ultimately he survived though looking worse for the wear. His ears were ragged and his tail was broken. Even so, to us he had only gained in stature and beauty.
To us, he was the most beautiful cat in the entire world. We loved him more than ever before because of what he had survived.
These experiences that are tumbling my dear friends around right now may indeed make them feel vulnerable and fragile. I know some of them feel bruised and scrawny, beaten up by the hot dry winds that surround them.
But what I want them to know is that to the people who love you, these experiences you are going through only serve to make you more beautiful. We marvel at your strength and grace, even when you feel weak and awkward.
In the end, these powerful, painful forces shape us all into deeper, more empathic human beings.
Rough winds and fire come and go in our lives.
We learn to help each other out, to give each other shelter.
Together, we build our fences, alert for more fires in the distance.
We go on with life.