It’s the beginning of the new year (well almost — already time is slipping away), and once again it seems like something of a crossroads. This is made even more true for me because of some recent and significant life changes. These strong signs of delineation are, by nature, a time of looking back and looking forward. For all of us in times like these, whether it’s the turn of the year or an important life event, the pivotal point of reference is who we are right now. We are not like the artist who, as Irish novelist James Joyce famously said, “like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.”
This past year has been an exceptionally difficult one for almost everyone I know, a watershed, with its share of loss and grief and ongoing struggle. A short distance away from us, the Camp Fire in Paradise wiped an entire town off the map. That town had a small but vital hospital like those in Plumas County; theirs is now uninhabitable. Some of Feather River Hospital’s employees made headlines as they battled the fire to save their patients. Most all of us here know someone who lived through that fire, and in many ways, their struggles are just beginning.
Though far less extreme, the essential organizations in our community have their own ongoing struggles. They struggle financially, and they often struggle to find and keep quality leaders. Fragility and change can seem like a daunting combination. So, why do so many staff members stay loyal to their schools, their hospitals, their behavioral health and social service organizations?
I think that most of us who work at these organizations do so because we’re motivated by caring. We’re not perfect, we make mistakes, we get cranky and tired. But, most of the time, I like to think that we’re motivated by kindness, and by a desire to do good.
We had a recent example of this when a local resident sent out a plea on Facebook to see if she could purchase used bicycles for her five grandkids (her daughter and her daughter’s best friend and their husbands and kids were living together as one big family). These two young families lost everything in the Camp Fire.
I remembered that a volunteer group I work with had a brand new BMX bicycle left over from a community event we’d sponsored. Our group agreed to give that bike to the oldest grandson, who had been gifted a bike two weeks before the fire. That bike burned along with everything else. The family sent me a photo of the boy with his new bike, and I have to say his smile was a reminder of what matters.
Our group also decided we’d buy winter jackets and shoes or boots for both families. The family members were allowed to choose their own favorite things. They were so appreciative of these gifts, which didn’t change things much, but at least offered a hint of sunshine. The purchase that got to me the most was the three-year-old’s pick of “Sleepy Unicorn” rain boots. Something about those beautiful little lavender-colored boots with their sweet, sleepy unicorns made me cry — the hopefulness of them.
I firmly believe that hope gets us back on our feet. This family reminded me what resilience and hope really mean. It was an act of kindness that connected us — a grandmother reached out. Then, our volunteer group played its part. And, I got to see this family, so appreciative in the face of so much loss, taking care of each other.
These acts of kindness are what make us human and move us forward. So, at this crossroads, when we look towards the future, I’m feeling hopeful. There are a lot of jokes about people who believe in unicorns, but now you can count me among them.
Locally, our community has proved itself to be resilient time and again. I would suggest to new leaders, to the change makers, the lovers of the new — take the time to listen and learn the story of those who came before you. In order to know where you’re going, you need to know where you’ve come from. This community’s residents have known this place before you knew it existed. Many have been born and raised here for generations. They and their families are this place.
Finally, I’m proud to be a part of a community where kindness matters. We are anything but perfect, but that instinct for caring and compassion will continue to bring us through the tough times. And, it will motivate us to do better — for ourselves and our community.