Losing and Gaining…

Losing and Gaining...

The California fires as seen from space…

Last Monday, my husband had jury duty 15-20 miles away from our home in Ventura County, CA. We actually live RIGHT ON THE BORDER between LA County and Ventura County. He was at the Ventura Court House all day, but was not called to duty and was released from his obligation late Monday afternoon. Hours later, the Thomas Fire began in Ventura Country.


This is all new to us. We have been in California for only four years and yes, there have been fires. But California is a huge state–they were never near us. Now they were in our county and because of the Santa Ana winds–the fire was spreading. By Wednesday, the weather service was predicting winds up to 80 miles per hour. Okay, can a fire travel that many miles and threaten our home? Not likely. (It depends on the wind’s direction and the wind did ultimately shift, moving the fire toward Ojai and the ocean.) But more fires were starting in other areas. No matter how you evaluated the winds, the dry conditions, many  Californians were in danger.


We are fine–though the Thomas Fire has burned 173,000 acres, is only 15% contained and is now in Santa Barbara County. Evacuations are still being ordered. We gained, many lost. A video of a man jumping from his truck to save a wild rabbit went viral. Twenty-nine horses died in Ojai and many more endangered in fires near San Diego.

We did pack up our car, though we never got an evacuation order. Seasoned neighbors chuckled. Our family members in other areas did not–once an evacuation order is given you have little time. Then the roads are jammed. We could have been on the road immediately.


Much of life is about losing and gaining–weight, health, money, jobs, prestige–and most important, belief in self versus giving up.

We all need cheer leaders, people who believe in our choices and admire how we plan and pursue our lives. That’s the role of parents. Successful people often credit their parents and/or spouses for their success, someone who believe in them. And on the contrary, some very successful people had little to no parental support and made the decision to “show” their beginnings that they could “make it” despite the hard-to-overcome negatives.

Even as an adult, recently I find myself looking for support, for people who believe in what I believe in, people who struggle but don’t give up, because I won’t and cannot. Laugh if you want to because I packed up my computer, but I was ready to save my writings, double protected by flash drives and some work on the mysterious CLOUD. I was ready to bring with me physical reminders of my life. You know what THEY SAY, bring your photographs, because everything else can be replaced. That’s true and not true.

Material things are just STUFF, but they matter to us–we cannot say they don’t. Of course if forced to stand by a burned building with your life–yes–it’s only stuff.


So what have I gained from this past week, from being fortunate to sit here at my computer and write to you today–everything intact?

  • gratitude
  • relaxation–why go crazy with chores, Beth. Enjoy moments of your life.
  • Careful choosing..I did go through my house Wednesday afternoon as the winds roared outside, picking out things to take–the quilt my grandmother made when we were married; an album my mother made for me–of report cards and drawings from my childhood; my father’s lavaliere, his ring, and my Winnie the Pooh Books from my childhood. I also have picture frames of my three children–the photo that is showing being fairly current. But behind that photo are all the ones taken in the lower grades and high school. You can lay them out–watch my children change and grow…


Some people who lost their homes had to run, had to abandon and leave behind the material things in their lives. Other people have to run from the very life they are living. They take a huge risk to find the life they deserve. Take Michael Oatman, for example. Remarkable statements from THIS I BELIEVE, as to how he changed his life.

I still wonder what happened to that happy-go-lucky semi-thug who used to hang out with drug dealers on dimly-lit street corners. Well, I’m in the library parsing a Jane Austen novel looking for dramatic irony, while many of my old friends are dead or in jail.

I was lucky…When I was on the streets, I never felt I was good at anything, but I wrote this poem about a girl who didn’t care about me, and it got published. I knew nothing about grammar or syntax, so I went back to school to learn that stuff, and one thing led to another.

It’s odd to educate oneself away from one’s past. As an African-American male, I now find myself in a foreign world. Like steam off of a concrete sidewalk, my street cred is evaporating away, but I don’t fight it anymore. Letting go of the survival tools I needed on the street was a necessary transaction for admittance to a better life…I’ve learned the benefit of research and reading, of debate and listening. My new battlefields are affirmative action, illegal immigration and institutional racism.

I believe I am the living embodiment of the power of education to change a man. One day soon, a crop of fresh-faced college students will call me professor. I may even be the only black face in the room, the only representative of the underclass. I may feel the slight sting of isolation, but I’ll fight it off because I believe in the changes that my education has allowed me to make. (Thanks to THIS I BELIEVE.)

Photo Credit:  Marwa Eltagouri in the Washington Post.

16 thoughts on “Losing and Gaining…

  1. I didn’t know you lived so close to me, Beth! I’m up in San Luis Obispo, and the smoke is so thick I have to turn on lights to see on a “sunny” day. The sun is a dim red ball and the sky is the color of a bruised peach. And we’re two counties up from the fires (although Thomas may be in Santa Barbara Co. by now.)

    Lots of wisdom in this post. It’s all just stuff. But it’s pieces of our lives that it hurts to lose.

    Take care!

    • Thanks, Anne. It was a learning week for me on so many levels. I wanted to reach out to anyone who was threatened, but some Californians act like it’s no big deal. WRONG. Wish we were close enough for coffee! Take care of yourself and thanks for reading, Beth

  2. Dear Beth: we’ve been worried for days about you and John so the news part of this blog post is much needed here in snowy northern Virginia. But thanks too for your thoughts about what matters and for that beautiful personal note by the man who has chosen a new way and who has learned what he might happily let go and what he wishes to hold dear. We should all be doing that.

    • Thanks, John. It’s amazing where people will travel in their minds and in their lives. I listened to THIS I BELIEVE on Tape in my car and am overwhelmed by the courage of so many people. An NPR, production. They certainly do a lot of great things–like having you on! Love you, Me

      PS The best thing about maybe having to leave our home is we have Bill and Christie who will take us in for long periods of time. And of course we them.

  3. Glad you are safe. It is and isn’t just things but readiness is important. My husband is the extreme boy scout of readiness but every year when we have a power failure he goes into action. I used to be in the LA area every month for a week for 13 years. I experienced those Santa Anna winds and they are truly off putting.

  4. I enjoyed the honest words of this Boomer Highway. Deciding on what to take away from one’s home, should you have to abandon it, are very telling. It makes one stop and think, what really is valuable…..and of course the obvious answer is one’s life. But what about your “stuff”? The only thing that “stuff” is really used for, is to trigger all those wonderful memories in your life. Which will alway be with you whenever you call upon your mind, your soul, and one’s boundless imagination. But we still treasure our “stuff” 🙂

    • Love your comment. That’s what I struggle with. Because after the move, there were things I didn’t take THAT I COULD HAVE TAKEN, and did not and I regret many of them–even though it is just stuff.

      Love you, Beth

  5. O-My-Goodness…I am so glad to hear that you are safe. Packing up your car, even though you never got an evacuation order was the SMART thing to do. Natural disasters are becoming more and more devastating. We recently “survived” category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria, the devastation and loss was shattering. It’s really important to know what to do and take steps to protect your life and safety before, during, and after disasters! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Great post. So glad you are safe and your home is safe. I’m a student of yoga and mindfulness and I’m constantly reminded to live life in the moment. That’s really all we have.

  7. I feel for you up in Ventura. We got a bunch of smoke in the San Fernando Valley but I can’t even imagine what it was like up there. Glad you are okay. My niece was one of the vet interns taking care of that lucky rabbit and later horse in Del Mar.

    • Wow, thanks for sharing about your niece, Rebecca. I can tell you are a giver and come from a family of givers. I love this state. I hope we can find ways to preserve our wild life and our forests etc. Thanks again, Beth

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