Yesterday afternoon made for a typically enjoyable Saturday, with one small exception. Going to lunch, I saw a small gray plume of smoke coming from the foothills that majestically grace Colorado Springs. By the time I left the restaurant an hour and half later; the sun was casting an eerie orange hue outside. I looked up to the mountains to see a massive large black pillar of smoke billowing high into the deep blue alpine sky!
In the course of some twenty-four hours, what began as a 50-acre fire has exploded into a 2,000-acre behemoth. There is no containment of this inferno, the temperature today is expected to be in the nineties, the wind is starting to gain momentum, and the prospect of precipitation is non-existent! The picture right now is bleak at best.
It is in the most horrific situations that we see the best in humanity. Some 3,000 homes have been evacuated as a precautionary measure. High schools have been commissioned as temporary shelters, the Red Cross has mobilized in exemplary fashion, and otherwise complete strangers are opening their homes and their pocketbooks to the less fortunate. An entire community has risen to the occasion and we are all helping on another in any way we possibly can.
The politicians have all conducted their press conferences, reassuring their constituents that they are control and that we will be spared any further travesty! I suspect that their motives are tempered by a combination of compassion and the fact that this is an election year. The local media figures have been working non-stop for the past twenty-four hours, analyzing every single facet of the fire. We have ingested a steady dose of technical reports and human interest stories. I imagine that their efforts will be rewarded by opportunities at larger media outlets in the future, or possibly even the coveted news Emmy!
It does not take a deep level of analysis to see what is transpiring at a sociological level. All of us are being united by a sense of helplessness. This fire knows no discrimination, in terms of which lives it will devastate. It is all a matter of accidental geography. The victims are completely blameless and we all sigh in the knowledge that we could be next. In short, we are nobly banding together to selflessly assist those who are momentarily less fortunate than ourselves.
Colorado Springs is also the home to several thousand homeless individuals and families. They too have been devastated by circumstances beyond their control. Much like the fire-related evacuees; they have forfeited everything important in their lives. They have lost homes, possessions, and even family members. Unlike their natural disaster counterparts; the nightmare has no immediate end in sight.
In this case, however, the level of attention that this social situation has received is minimal. There has not been a task force assembled to coordinate the community response to the situation. Federal, state, county, and municipal resources have not been mobilized. The charitable organizations have not opened up temporary shelters or made mass appeals for donations. The elected officials have not called press conferences to assure the public that homelessness will be eradicated immediately. The media have not gone over to twenty-four hour coverage of the situation.
As my regular blog readers know, I am an observer of the human condition. I have been blessed with the ability to see the world around me in a unique way. Everyday events and situations hold a deeper meaning through my eyes. Invariably, I always struggle to find the lesson to be learned from what might initially seem trivial. In this case, I have had to wrestle with this duality of misfortunes!
Why is a temporary disaster garnering more attention than a situation that has been with us for years? Why is a natural inferno monopolizing the airwaves, while people live on the streets with no relief in sight? Where are the politicians while a child goes to sleep under a bridge, hunger gnawing away at her belly? Where are the government agencies, with their coordinated response; while a man loses his dignity behind an empty shopping cart?
Could it be that we see the fire as a random event and its victims as completely helpless? Is it our nature to view a homeless person as somehow less worthy; someone who had it coming in some fashion? Was your home burning to the ground any more tragic than a person calling an alley his home? I can not give you those answers; but I can certainly challenge you to look into your soul for answers!
Please do not think in any way that I am minimizing the significance of the forest fire burning on the edge of our city. My heart goes out to the evacuees and I hold our public safety heroes in the highest of esteem. I will be doing my part to provide relief to those who are thrust into the category of “unfortunate” by this undiscriminating monster of a fire.
Today my thoughts and prayers will be with the firefighters and the displaced families. Once this fire has been extinguished, my thoughts and prayers will be with those poor souls who have lost everything and have been cursed to roam the streets in hope of reclaiming their lives! My prayers will end with a request for a special blessing.
I only hope that the politicians, the media figures, and each of you will be able to maintain the same courage and sense of urgency after the last ember has died down. My prayers will be answered when I see the best of humanity attacking a chronic social problem with the same bravado that they discovered in the face of temporary natural disaster!