Last week the news coverage of the Camp Fire that had burned down the town, of Paradise, California, didn't mention Joan Lewin lived there and that disaster had found her this time. She lost her town, her home, but got out with her dog and her son, when many were lost, burnt to death in the fire, a fire so hot, dental records could not be used to identify bodies and cadaver dogs are over stimulated by what they are encountering as they do their gruesome work searching for remains.
Joan Lewin waited 2 days before posting on Facebook she was ready to get to the work she knew how to do, help people in crisis find their new lives.
As we experience Thanksgiving, what can we be thankful for? We need to be thankful that there are Joan Lewins in the world, people who get their breath after tragedy and dive in to find ways to serve others in the ways they know how to do. Keggy Roark did it after the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City. He knew how to make some of the best barbeque you might ever be lucky enough to consume. He simply closed down all his local interests and took his equipment and started cooking barbeque for the workers there at the site in OKC.
We have much to be thankful for. When we were hurting but also numb from loss, FEMA helped bring us to our new normal by providing the assistance they could. They also helped survivors find a new source of frustration and perhaps an agency to focus it and their anger. Starting over is never easy and red-tape helped us figure out, starting over would be hard and personally costly. The U.S. government provides assistance but not a full-fledge do over.
Our new normal is now being experienced by thousands of survivors of the largest fires in California history. Joan Lewin’s hometown is gone, a city twice the size of Miami, OK with over 70 dead in the flames or the smoke, and a thousand more still missing. Their FEMA office has the usual service representatives, Social Security, Veterans Affairs, housing, loans, but at the FEMA office for the survivors of the Camp Fire, DNA swabs are being taken to better be able to identify the remains that are otherwise unrecognizable.
During the FEMA sessions we had in Ottawa County in 2007-8, I got to serve as a counselor through Grand Lake Mental Health, walking neighborhoods and listening, offering what listening eases and sharing information, since facts and services can be tangible service, too. During those times, I got to know Joan Lewin.
It was later that year, she picked me up in Sacramento, California and we drove to Chico for a Sustainability Conference hosted by California State University, Chico. We were scheduled to speak together for a session entitled, ‘Learning from the Tar Creek Superfund Site: Land Restoration and Community Recovery after Natural and Man-Made Disasters that contaminate the land and water—and how you can help your own community recover."
Yes, it was Joan Lewin who helped me understand the other disaster we had and continue to face is the man-made disaster left by mining companies after the lead and zinc played out here leaving us the toxic mess we are enduring.
The Oxford Dictionary has announced TOXIC as their 2018 word of the year, since toxic "seems to reflect a growing sense of how extreme, and at times radioactive, we feel aspects of modern life have become,” Oxford released in a statement recently.
The Tar Creek Superfund site and use of the word toxic perhaps helped propel the word to be chosen, as the choice is made by the number of searches for its meaning on the Oxford website.
Joan drove me through her Paradise, since it was only 12 miles from Chico, our destination. Earlier that same year, there had been fires that burnt the hillsides and were evident as we drove through what remained of the forest that November on the curving roads. I can visualize how driving those roads with thousands of people fleeing from this fire clogged the escape route, seen on the news, lined with the cars that did not make it.
Chico, sitting 12 miles away is now a tent city with thousands of the former residents of Paradise in tents, campers, wondering what on earth is next. Grief would be heavy there, and I am sure the walking counselors have been deployed and hard at work, listening to the horrifying stories of escaping and the fears and sorrow for those who they fear did not.
But what else did Joan post? Of the help they are receiving, the kindnesses that abound.
Soon she will be speaking of the New Normal she and her survivors will now seek, the one we have already found.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim