Actually, We DID Start the Fire
Because time has no meaning anymore, today I was looking at Christmas ornaments on a website from which I’ve ordered before. Finding one I liked, I clicked to add it to my cart, only to receive a pop-up notice saying: “We regret to inform our customers that our store has been destroyed by the wildfires in the area of McKenzie Hwy, Blue River, OR. We will try to let you know if we can rebuild soon.”
Great, I thought, 2020 just killed Christmas.
The country is on fire, in more ways than one. Friends in Oregon and California are posting terrifying photos of orange skies and falling ash. Many are evacuating. But many more are staying, somehow learning to adjust to living with air they can’t breathe and under the constant threat of having to get out at a moment’s notice. One of my editors, who lives in an area currently surrounded by fires, sends me edited chapters of my next novel in the middle of the night because it’s the only time she can work due to the overpowering heat.
In other incendiary news, the wildfire in the White House continues to rage, fueled by daily revelations of more incompetence, selfishness, and cruelty. Just as there seems to be no way to contain the flames destroying acre after acre in the west, there seems to be little anyone can, or at least is willing, to do to put out the inferno of stupidity ravaging the political landscape. With an election offering the only hope of relief still seven weeks away, it sometimes feels like it will be too little, too late.
My teacher friends went back to work this week, and friends with children saw them off on their first days of school. For some, that means returning to physical classrooms. For others, it means adjusting to remote learning. But whether in person or via Zoom, the school year has started again, because even in the midst of a nationwide health crisis, life has to keep going.
The truly weird thing is how normal this all feels now. After six months of quarantine, mask-wearing, and worry, I barely think about the virus anymore unless it’s to figure out the latest change it’s forced upon my daily life. So much is happening in other areas, and so quickly, that there isn’t time to think about the current tragedy or latest incident before another one comes along to take its place. Today someone on social media posted something about Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old white man who killed two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The shootings, which occurred just over two weeks ago, were all anyone talked about. Until they didn’t.
In the midst of everything else, the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks arrived. I lost a high school friend, Margaret Echtermann, in the collapse of 2 World Trade Center, and the events of that day are etched in my memory, even though I watched them unfold from 3,000 miles away in my living room in California. I specifically remember that first night, when the street outside my house suddenly filled with a spontaneous gathering of hundreds of people carrying American flags and photos of the dead and missing, attempting to comfort one another.
We thought then that nothing worse could happen to us as a nation. We vowed to overcome it. And we did. Now, as the number of American deaths from COVID-19 approaches 100 times the number of casualties experienced on that day, I find myself wondering how we got here and, more importantly, how we’ll get out of it this time.
This morning, Cubby asked me what I want to do for my approaching birthday. I’ve never really celebrated birthdays, so I don’t think about them much, but this year it seems particularly weird. So does thinking about what to do for the other big holidays coming up.
Our village council recently decided to allow socially-distanced trick-or-treating, which is a bit of joy in an otherwise dreary season. But what about Thanksgiving and Christmas, which involve far more close contact in enclosed places? Will the village’s traditional New Year’s Eve raccoon drop (a subject for a later column) happen? Depending on how things go on election day, will we even feel like celebrating at all?
Usually, from now until the new year is my favorite time. This year, with both literal and figurative flames threatening to burn the world down, I’m not sure how to feel about anything. How do you fight an out-of-control fire? Are there enough of us willing to battle it to put it out? Or do we just have to wait and see what’s left when it’s finished burning, and hope we can rebuild something better?