Tag Archives: Southern California fires

Counting my losses


I feel sad.

On the ride home from work I tried investigating why I was feeling sad. I came up with three or four major suspects:

The Southern California fires got me thinking about my brother and the happy family that never was. I don’t think about it often because it only leaves me with residual sadness. There is no more anger or blame. I am the person I am today in part because of my fucked up family. If the law of karma is indeed correct, I created the causes for that, most likely in a previous life. It was a lesson. It was purification.

The fire also brings brings up a lot of memories of the times I spent in Lake Arrowhead as a child. While my own family never took a vacation together, I spent many a summer with my friend Karen and her parents Margaret and Jim. At first it started as camping for a month at a stretch in the Dogwood Campground near the lake. I had no ideas what dogwood was, I figured it had something to do with dogs, and that was OK with me. After a few years, Margaret and Jim bought a former hunting cabin made of stone called Greystone.

Ah, Greystone. But, that is the subject for another time. But, for now, it is in danger because of the Lake Arrowhead fire. And while Karen sold the house a few years back, and I hadn’t been there for over 15 years, for some reason I mourn that potential loss.

I’m also mourning the loss of my spiritual community. Taking classes and helping my Buddhist Center gave me a sense of meaning in my life. But, now I wonder what was it I was working so hard for. I still love the three jewels – Buddha, dharma, and sangha – but the vehicle by which it was delivered to me (the NKT) I no longer trust. I’m trying to embrace the uncertainty of it all, but sometimes it just feels sad.

And finally, I don’t know how much longer Alaska will be with me. He’s a needy pain in the ass, but he’s a special guy. Next week I need to take him to the vet to get some tests done to see where he is with his CRF.

So, I allow myself the sadness, but try not to hold onto it or let it define me. It can all change so fast. Especially when you have a small feisty creature like Mr. Binkles around. When he isn’t attacking my face or feet, he’s really quite endearing. And nothing can turn a mood around like chasing a small woodland creature around the house on hardwood floors. Or sitting in your comfy chair with your sweet old cat and having a rabbit jump up on your lap and try to work his way into the petting.

I believe I’m reaching a bit of a detente with the Binkles. The couch is still disputed territory, but he’s starting to get that I’m the big bunny around the house. Yesterday morning he was having a fit because I was in his space, which he happens to share with the washer and dryer. But, I went in there with an attitude of “screw you, rabbit. I need clean underwear” and he seemed to respect that. He made lunging motions, but never nipped or bit me. Small victories.

Now, I’m not feeling so sad.

From a distance


It was four years ago, during the Cedar Fire that swept Eastern San Diego County, that I had to open a door in my heart that had been shut for several years. My brother lived in the area that was devastated by the fire. At that time, we had not spoken in over six years. But, I knew he lived in one of the hard hit communities, and it was very possible that he had lost or was going to lose his home. I remember I called his number. It just rang. That could mean one of two things; his place had no power, or there was no home. I didn’t want to worry about him or his family, but I did.

I followed the coverage relentlessly. CNN becomes my constant companion during any kind of natural or even man made disaster. I hate to admit it, but I find it exciting. It breaks up the monotony of the same old same old. But, it also exercises my mind of compassion. I try and let the victims’ suffering in and generate some genuine compassion (rather than simply pity).

A week later, when I heard and read that the evacuees were allowed to come back to their homes, I tried calling again. Answering machine. Whew. I hung up. Fine. Good. I could stop worrying about them. A colleague, however, chided me for not leaving a message, so he shamed me into calling again. Well, OK. I’ll leave a short message. As I was leaving a message, my sister-in-law picked up the phone. Oh shit. But, we ended up having a very cordial conversation about their ordeal (they had to evacuate out to Arizona b/c that was the first place that had open lodging, dealing with rumors of their house burning down, confirmation that their friends’ houses had, etc.). She said she’d have my brother call me.

He never did. I closed up that door in my heart again. Put the key in a safe place in case I ever needed it again.

So, now it’s 10 years that my brother and I haven’t spoken. And here I am once again nervously checking the news coverage to see if his home is in the line of fire. So far he’s in the clear. I don’t want to worry about him. But, I do.

It makes me sad and angry that I don’t have a relationship with my only living relative. But, apparently we can’t get past our vast differences: he’s a very conservative Christian living in the San Diego area, and I’m a very liberal Buddhist living in the Bay Area. He cut me out of his life 10 years ago after I told him I was a Buddhist. I guess he didn’t want his kids to be influenced by me. Sure, it was OK for me to be around his kids when I was drunken depressed atheist. It doesn’t make sense. So, in order to protect my heart, I shut that door. There are moments when I’m tempted to be the bigger person and try and start a dialogue, but pride gets in the way, as well as fear that I’ll be rejected again. It’s sad that I missed his kids growing up. I send them gifts every Christmas. I never get back a thank you. Every year as they got older I thought “maybe, maybe this time, I’ll get an acknowledgment. Maybe I can start a relationship with my neices and nephew.” But, it doesn’t happen. I accept that. Sadly.

So, from a distance I do care. And maybe that’s as close as it’s going to ever be.