WENATCHEE – What are we to do in all this heat and smoke? Canadian wildfire smoke is mucking up the air on both sides of the Cascades, all the way down to Oregon. The Department of Ecology tells us the air quality is terrible, which we already know because we feel it in our lungs. The smoke has forced the AppleSox to postpone games. Our valley’s gorgeous hills and lakes taunt us. We, a community of active, outdoorsy adventurers, peer out of windows at all that nature lying gray under a thick blanket of smoke, off-limits.
Where do we find relief? Indoors, that’s where, preferably set up with shades drawn, iced tea in hand and an air conditioner humming nearby.
And so we wait, holed up in our homes. But this I do not mind. Not even a little bit.
My family’s new house is just finished, still a mess of unpacked boxes and construction dust, but already buzzing like a good home should, with family meals at the kitchen table and shoes piled by the door and chapter books in the big chair before bedtime. When I hear my daughters giggling madly from their rooms, or when I sit for whole hours just staring at books on shelves, this is what I feel: Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude. Waves of it rolling over me. It catches my breath. It overwhelms me.
I am grateful for the firefighters who worked all the night of June 28, 2015, in the heat and smoke. From the career firefighters to the volunteer departments trucked in from all around the region that night, I know they tried to save my home. I know for certain they saved the rest of this town. Whenever I see a group of firefighters in uniform, I get a little teary. Thank you.
I am grateful for my neighbors. I am including the entire town here – local businesses, the Community Foundation, my children’s incredible preschool, my friends at the newspaper, a church congregation who gave books and toys, the woman I did not know (and never did meet) who dropped off dolls for my girls when she read about the fire in the newspaper.
To my neighbors in Broadview – to my fire friends who lost, and to those who did not, but who grieved right along with us – I don’t have enough words for you. Not yet. You have taught me what it means to love thy neighbor. You have taught me about community. Not “community” in the way we often hear about it. Not some faceless government program or benevolent rhetoric trotted out by politicians and PR people. But real, empathetic, love-in-action, boots-on-the-ground and casseroles-in-the-oven community. You took care of many of us when we were hurting, and in doing so, you created community.
Fire will come to this place again. We will be ready. We will gather clothes to donate, organize meals, offer up prayers and guest bedrooms. We will sit with our neighbors through their pain until they find their way home again. If you wonder whether these gestures matter to fire victims, I promise you they do.
That damn fire humbled me. It taught me how to walk in true gratitude. Since being in the new house, I am practically swimming in it. Gratitude and peace. It’s a peace I have not felt for more than two years. I did not realize how much I missed the peace of having a home of my own – and for my kids – until I found it again this week. The world suddenly seems less fuzzy, less smoky. I breathe deeply, finally. I do not mind staying home.
Kelli Scott is a columnist for the Wenatchee World.
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