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Taran March @ Quality Digest

Quality Insider

The Gift of Being Small

Stories are the ornaments in our lives

Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2018 - 12:03

I tend to be a holiday slacker, but this year I’m really sitting it out. No fingering handmade crafts at pop-up fairs, no high-calorie marathons with my oven, not even a sprig of holly on my door. I’m hibernating, waiting for spring, waiting for the ashes, in what used to be my town, to feed the bulbs and trees and produce a technicolor renewal in a few months.

There have been so many stories about the Paradise fire, each as detailed and individual as a snowflake. Each, you would think, impossible. But there are shared elements. The hurried round-up of animals and items; the tense gridlock of a night-dark town emptying on an otherwise sunny morning; surreal, snapshot images amid swirling smoke; and always, everywhere, the flames. Little flames scurrying along the ground in haphazard lines. Average flames gnawing at shrubs and dog houses. And great, towering demon flames, whirling and dancing and destroying.

Everyone who was there knows that story and can embellish it. Some can’t stop picturing it; some have extinguished it as thoroughly as the 5,000 fire fighters who fought the blaze.

Stories. We humans have to have them. But here’s the thing, as my friend Mary would say, at whose house I landed for the first few weeks post-fire. Here’s the thing: Even horrific stories give us choices. We can act on them or let them go. Trot them out for skeptical descendants. Drive ourselves crazy with them. They are uniquely ours but thread us together like a paper chain around a Christmas tree.

After the fire, while the town was still locked down, I drove up and waved press credentials at an affable National Guard guy in desert camo. That in itself was a story. I drove to my house, looking for my cat, whose own story ultimately included a happy ending. But that day, Paradise felt and smelled like a giant, deserted crematorium. I couldn’t really process what I saw, and still can’t. But during subsequent visits, I could notice the work. The ruined town was still functioning, busy really, populated by people doing what people do: their jobs.

There were people carting off burned-out cars, or carting in long trailers piled with telephone poles. There were more people inching their way up newly planted poles and stringing lines. People digging trenches, checking out the water mains. Replacing guard rails. There were trucks with obscure logos, heading off on obscure missions. Over all, there was the pervasive, familiar grind of chainsaws, their output stacked along every roadside.

That’s the part of the story I choose to recall. Workflow. Project management. Problem solving and human endeavor.

However, there is one other story, a fire story, I’d like to share. This one is about a Paradise resident named John, a brilliant musician who, like many in the town, managed to live frugally but creatively. You might say his social skills were overlooked in favor of his musical genius, but that genius made up for any imagined lack, and anyway, he is a mild, kind, and thoughtful man. His hair sticks out like Einstein’s.

When the fire arrived, John discovered his car didn’t work, or he couldn’t work his car. Didn’t really matter which; he still had to act. So he strapped his cello to his back, made an unsuccessful grab for the cat, and climbed on his bicycle. He pedaled out of harm’s way, and when he got tired, he coasted to the side of the road and stopped. He climbed off his bike, uncased his cello, and started playing, with the lurid glow of the town behind him as backdrop.

John did this because it’s his job to make music. (You can watch the news clip about him here.)

Meanwhile, here I sit, tapping out these lines in a new town, keeping an eye on a long text from another fire survivor, something about a man with a wooden leg and a young woman who likes cockatoos. It involves grocery shopping, too, and eating Thai food. More work. More stories.

Me, I plan to sit quietly and not add to my own story for a bit. That feels about right.

Happy holidays, everyone. Be glad that you are human, and that you have work to do.

Discuss

About The Author

Taran March @ Quality Digest’s picture

Taran March @ Quality Digest

Taran March is Quality Digest’s executive editor. A 35-year veteran of publishing, March has written and edited for newspapers, magazines, book publishers, and universities. When not plotting the course of QD with the team, she usually can be found clicking around the internet in search of news and clues to the human condition.

Comments

The Gift of the Season -- --

The Gift of the Season -- -- OPTIMISM

~

Thank you for this - periodically necessary and seasonally timely, a humbling reminder that at the end of the day, we are all in this giant process called life...together.

Wonderful story. I'm so

Wonderful story. I'm so impressed. We came with nothing into this world and we'll leave with nothing. A reality check!

Bless all those affected by

Bless all those affected by the fires and hurricanes this year.  It places permanent scars on people and animals.  We pray for healing and the fortitude to deal with each day of recovery.

The story - The gift of being SMALL

Great story; thanks. I just shred it on my LinkedIn page.