Who and What Divide Us?

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A Camp Fire evacuee plays with an abandoned dog, Chico, CA, Nov. 15

Daily updates on the deadliest fire in California history are almost too horrific to take in. The Camp Fire, named after its place of origin on Camp Creek Road, has destroyed the town of Paradise. This is a beautiful part of California, just a few miles east of Chico where Mary and I once lived.

The ever-changing toll stands at 71 people known dead, more than 1000 missing, and as many as 12,000 buildings destroyed. Fifty thousand people have been displaced. Breathing the air for a day in San Francisco, 150 miles away, is equivalent to smoking 11 cigarettes. (1).

At the same time, stories of generosity emerge as vividly as the deadly statistics. A former NFL linebacker, who lived through the Santa Rosa fire, paid for three large truckloads of bedding and similar goods to be sent to those in shelters. Individuals and businesses throughout north state are doing what they can to help. There are stories of people displaced by the fire spending their days sorting donated goods to benefit others. Here is another dramatic account from the LA Times on November 12:

The Paradise Adventist Academy girl’s volleyball team was scheduled to play a semifinal match in Auburn on Saturday, but “Paradise had no uniforms and most of the families had only the clothes on their backs. When they arrived, they found new uniforms, knee pads and socks for every player. There was also a room full of goods for families and dinner was served. At the end, the Paradise coach was presented with gift cards for each player and family, $300 per student.”

I am old enough to have grown up in neighborhoods where people knew and looked out for each other as a matter of course. That memory, as well as my living experience since then, convinces me that this is what is “normal” for humans as social creatures. It’s a loss we feel deeply when it is absent, as we all know it is now.

“As humans, we need spiritual, social, emotional, and physical connections with one another to flourish,” says Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (2). We, as a culture, are not flourishing!

How have we come to a place in this country where only disasters unite us?

Who benefits from our divided nation?

How have we been and how are we being manipulated to perpetuate these divisions?

If we don’t like being manipulated, how can we opt out?

There are many answers. None of them are easy, but each perhaps is like the shard of a broken mirror, reflecting a little bit of the truth. Here is one I like:

Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who first came to this country during the 60’s to campaign against the Vietnam war, told of the difficult journeys of many of the “boat people,” those who sought to escape by sea after the fall of Saigon.

“When the crowded refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person stayed calm, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.”

I’ve read accounts of movements like Gandhi’s that suggest that a surprisingly small percentage of people who are truly committed to a just cause is all it takes to reach a tipping point. We’d better hope so, because our climate disasters are striking with ever increasing frequency and violence, and everyone who is honest knows it will only get worse until we begin to address the causes of climate change with the dedication we now bring to helping those who are its victims.

3 thoughts on “Who and What Divide Us?

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