When tragedy strikes near to home there is encouragement in feeling the solidarity of others. I’ve had several texts and messages from friends across the country inquiring how we are doing as a result of the twin tragedies–the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks and now the horrendous fires.

Thank you.  We are safe and not in any danger. To say that we are unaffected, however, isn’t true. If my tears could help those who have lost so much I’d be sure to share them.

We are learning of friends who have lost their homes, been displaced due to mandatory evacuation and are hearing of businesses and “favorite places” that no longer exist .

Several of my most recent blog posts have included photos taken in Malibu. I had a post “ready to go” that I can’t bear to share until I learn the reach of the scarring. I may never really share them as they were originally intended.

We live 30 miles east of the closest fires (Woolsey), but they feel closer to home. The Northern California fire (Camp) which destroyed the entire city of Paradise, has blanketed hundreds of miles with air so dangerous that as far west as the San Francisco Bay Area it is recommended everyone stay indoors.

The gravity of loss is staggering. Loss of life, loss of property and the loss of employment.

It’s hard to imagine some of the insensitive and callous remarks that have been made by public officials and their supporters, but if I let that ugliness leach into me it will steal energy that could be proactively placed in compassionate action.

I’ve long believed that compassion without action is weak, and although it’s too soon to know where I might most be able to effectively lend support, I know there will be appropriate opportunities.

With tremendous diversity of interests, ridiculous urban sprawl, staggeringly high population density centers and at times extreme expressions of personal independence, when it matters most, Americans know how to organize.  And as cultural creatives, Californians  know how to lead in efforts of community spirit and activism.

What would be different in our world if instead of focusing on separation and division we flipped it around and focused on how we are all connected? How would it go for us if in times of great need and distress we actually emphasized our interdependence?

I’ve been re-reading the works of one of my favorite contemplative social activists, Thomas Merton OCSO.

‘The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in other another.” ― Thomas Merton

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” ― Thomas Merton

Let’s cultivate compassion this week. There is no lack of opportunity.













60 thoughts on “Chiaroscuro

  1. Thanks for your well written post. I learned the “worthy” lesson a long time ago while loaning a friend money. I judged every purchase she made before she paid me back. Worthy or frivolous. It was my mother who “wised me up.” Even if you disagree, when tragedy strikes, we must unite. So glad you are ok. Overall it was a lousy week but I’m hoping the only way to go is better.

    • A lot of adjectives have been used to describe this past week, and I think yours, “lousy,” is just the best! Thank you for that, Kate. 🙂 I am confident that I would really have liked your mom. She was a wise woman!

  2. It’s heart-wrenching to see the images from the various fires burning in CA. And equally dis-heartening to see Trumps misstatements and mis-tweets re same.

    And I don’t care what Merton says (or how well he says it) . . . Trump (and others of like ilk) are NOT worthy of our love. 😀

    • My first response to the Tweet was to be furious, Nancy. It wasn’t even slightly accurate, but truth isn’t valued, so nothing new. And it seemed to me from that point forward I began to realize that I was going to step up my game in taking an active response, in both environmental and relief agency support–in other words, do more! I’m very inspired and encouraged by Merton’s teachings, but challenged by them as well. I do hope this week brings relief. From many things, actually! 🙂 Thank you for always sharing so honestly, Nancy. It is what I expect from you, and appreciate!

      • You said it better than me, Debra.

        I’ll revise my earlier comment to say that I do not believe that I will evolve enough in this lifetime to truly LOVE people who intentionally harm others with guns, vehicles, or . . . TWEETS.


  3. Thank you Deb! I shared your meaningful reflection on my fb. Like a calming cool drink with hummingbirds visiting! Thank you, Beth

    Sent from my iPhone Beth Gramling, MA, LMFT


  4. So glad to read this, Debbie, though it makes very sad reading. Some of the photos I have seen have been horrific and I didn’t know how close by you were. I intended to come looking for you tonight so you’ve made my life easier by posting. I applaud your response. Stay safe!

    • Thank you so much for caring and checking in, Jo. It’s just awful, as you’ve witnessed in the photos. I think the aftermath is going to be a big challenge, but I’m always amazed at the resilience in people, and the generosity that will flow from those who haven’t directly suffered. I appreciate you thoughtful comment, my friend. I hope yo have a wonderful week settling in to your new environs. 🙂

  5. Cultivate Compassion. I will do my best.

    I know that I have no true concept of what those in either of those horrific tragedies went through. I have been shocked to the core by both. I was watching a video this morning of someone driving to get out of the fire zone. I was horrified and felt the fear from inside of their vehicle. I think that is the closest I can get to truly understanding.

    Cultivate Compassion. I will do my best.

    • Scary and horrible–accurate description, Andrew. I’m emotionally very strained. We, too, have friends who’ve lost their home in Paradise. I’m so sorry for your friends, as well. I cannot fathom the losses in that particular community. I think the reality hasn’t even begun to sink in as to the magnitude of these losses. I’m approaching Thanksgiving personally very grateful, but really “feeling it” for those who are so in need. That covers a lot of sectors, doesn’t it! Be safe…don’t breathe too deep! 😦

  6. So beautifully said, Debra. I’m glad you are safe. This is not the time for petty comments and small mindedness, but for compassion – as you express – and for action.

    • Thank you, my friend. I am doing what I can to limit my exposure to what I have categorized as “foolish talk,” and focus on what we can to salve wounds and provide comfort. I know you’re probably experiencing the effects of the Camp fire. I have a lot of family “up your way” and the reports and photos are indeed troubling. I think of you with your responsibilities. Take care, and thank you for your thoughtful response.

  7. Glad to hear from you earlier today and to know you and yours are safe. Like you, I’m trying to reprogram myself to love and show compassion. It’s the only way we’re going to survive. xo

    • There are so many needs, and it’s better for me to focus on “how to help.” Kindness and compassion are truly key to our survival, Andra. I think that’s the way forward, and we may want to do all we can to advance that message. Thank you for your care and concern, my friend.

  8. Debra,I have been so heartbroken seeing the pain California is enduring now, between the shooting and the fires. I am happy to hear that you are not in danger. I hope that this tragedy spurs much needed change in environmental policies, and removes the unwise and heartless from power. You and everyone in California remain in my prayers.

    • It is SO good to hear from you, Karen. Your words are so powerfully “on point” and I hope for the same. There are so many conflicting aims in our country right now. California leads in environmental protections and encourages alternative energy sources and responsible land usage. There’s still room for much improvement, but with the Federal branch working against those aims it sets us up adversarial positions rather than working for effective change and improvement. It’s impossible for me to understand, but right for now, there are people so badly needing help and compassionate assistance. We’ll see what we can do. I hope you’re doing well, Karen. I have missed you. 🙂

    • Thank you for pointing to Brian Doyle, Jim. I will prioritize getting a copy of “The Thorny Grace of It.” I am really trying to sift through feelings, emotions, and at times “thorny” perspectives. 🙂 I think I may need to read what he had to say. I appreciate your direction.

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment, and I am happy to have this shared. It’s a difficult time and sharing my thoughts and having them received is comforting.

  9. I share your sentiments, you have articulated them so well. While smoke is all around us, my heart is breaking with the thoughts of losses. Love and compassion is the only balm I have.

    • It’s really nice to feel your solidarity, ballroop2013. These fires are hard to fathom, aren’t they? I am hoping that perhaps there will be opportunities for those of us who aren’t in direct danger to be support in many different and creative ways. It’s a complex time for all of us, but I, too, think that if our speech included more love and compassion for others and so much less criticism, we’d be better off. These horrible fires might usher in some changes. Some things that seemed critically important a week ago don’t seem as important today! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  10. Yes I share your sentiment as well. So sad of thoughts about so many people hurting from so much loss. Many prayers for them and my heart feels sore. So glad you and your family are safe. Love Deb

    • Thanks, Deb. It’s really sad and terrible, isn’t it? It must be hard for you to hear about the fires when you’re so familiar with the areas involved. We are fine. Prayers are always welcome, my friend. Thank you!

  11. We had a lively trip down to Tiverton on Saturday in gusty wet weather that we imported from the US. Football match was almost cancelled! The previous week the coach broke down and some of our passengers acted impatiently 😦 Such small things compared to what I see in your lives that I find it frustrating when people complain! Even so, our weather is much more volatile than when I was a kid, so something is wrong with the world 😦

    Just caring about what is happening is a good start Debra – you can only move further down the road to providing assistance when the way is shown to you either by the authorities or by some community action project. I agree with your sentiments about public officials – self servers most of them (we have the same breed in the UK) 😦

    At present, the power of thought and prayers is perhaps the best thing any of us can offer and ours are with you and yours and the people of California – Find peace and comfort in difficult times 🙂

    • I appreciate your perspective, Martin. I also agree that thoughts and prayers and offering peace to others is a positive way to move forward. Stating that weather everywhere is more volatile is an excellent way to say it. We are in our 7th year of drought and these fires literally combust so quickly that victims can’t outrun them. I don’t think we are alone in our troubles, certainly, but the frequency of these conflagrations and the tremendous destruction and lives lost, is heartbreaking. Reading the President’s insensitive Tweets this weekend just about pushed me over the edge. I was naive to think he’d rise above his callous ways. But it did trigger in me a strong desire to be sure that those of us who feel differently stand apart and move compassionately towards helping wherever we can. It’s going to be a long season of rebuilding. Thank you for your thoughtful response, Martin. I do appreciate you stopping by.

    • Thank you, Cathy. The fires are still raging and the loss of life is significant. I am glad you appreciated the message in the quotes, my friend. I find Thomas Merton to be very comforting. 😉

  12. First of all, I am glad you and your family are safe. I love California, that the first state I got to know when I came to the U.S. I went to UCLA and let me tell you, it was quite a culture shock, coming from a small village in the Alps.

    You my friend, are very fortunate, that I don’t have your cell phone number, because I would check in on you daily right now. Be safe – stay safe and reach out, if you need help.

    Can we print the quote and hand it out in flyers, please?

    “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” ― Thomas Merton”

    Love it!

    • You gave me quite a giggle thinking of you coming to UCLA from a small village in the Alps. What a shock, indeed. And how fortunate to have been at UCLA! Such a good school!

      We live in the East San Gabriel Valley so we aren’t near the fires, per se, but we travel into Westlake Village on business and know the areas so well that they feel like an extension of home. I keep thinking of the servers and staff at some of the restaurants and hotels we have visited in the area and have learned were burned to the ground. It’s felt very personal.

      I really appreciate your kindness, Bridget, and in offering support you’re already spreading the essence of what I wanted to share in the Merton quotes. We need to keep encouraging each other to move forward compassionately. I really do thank you!

  13. Merton’s words always inspire me and calm me, Debra. These words were well chosen and bring us to a more compassionate place. Being proactive is so important and that is what you are doing. Please know that California remains in my prayers.

    • Thank you, dear Penny. I know you mean what you say and that’s such a gift. Merton’s words calm me, too. I hadn’t thought of that word, but it’s accurate! I had recently pulled a couple of his books off the shelf and I hadn’t opened them in such a long time. Once I started reading, however, I realized that not only am I in a different stage of life so that his messages come to me differently, but the world has also changed, and he does profess a gift of calm! I thank you for your continued prayers for those who are suffering. Tonight they’ve increased the casualty count and I have felt sick over it. There’s a lot of sadness in the world, but this is just close enough to home to feel a little more personal. I’m glad you stopped by, my friend.

  14. I’m with nonsmokingladybug: Print the Merton quote and hand it out!! (I quite like your “Compassion without action is weak” as well!
    Thank you for the eloquent reminder of what’s truly important, Debra.

    • I appreciate the encourage. Thank you so much. Earlier this week one of the parent’s who lost her child in the Thousand Oaks shooting stated through clenched teeth, “I don’t want to hear any more ‘thoughts and prayers’ I want action!” And it occurred to me that words are becoming quite trite. We need to put our compassion into action. Thank you for adding your voice to this plea.

  15. Glad to hear you are safe and well Debra despite all the dreadful events. Thanks for a very poignant post, I couldn’t agree more with what you said about compassion. In today’s angry world we need more than ever to treat others with compassion rather than confrontation.
    It’s difficult to believe that California’s problems are not related to climate change and I worry that if we don’t quickly do something structural and fundamental to the way we live it may be too late to save the planet for our children and grandchildren.

    • I share your concern for the effects of climate change, Philip. There are no doubt many contributing factors to these fires, and the devastation is in part due to where homes are being built, but the effect of multi-year drought undeniably creates horrific conditions when the Santa Ana winds pick up. The ferocity of the Camp Fire in Paradise is so horrific I can hardly comprehend what I’m seeing in photos. I think we are in a lot of trouble if we don’t make major change, and I’m afraid I’m not very hopeful. Thank you for your very thoughtful response.

  16. California is in the thoughts and prayers of all Floridians. Unfortunately we see a lot of destruction in our state from hurricanes but we always have warnings well in advance of a severe storm. The fires on the other hand happen so quickly. Very happy to know that you are out of the danger zone.

    • Thank you, Karen. We’ve experienced earthquakes that have damaged our home, and I’ve long been concerned about the “big one” we’re told will come in time. But these fires are beyond anything I can imagine. We have friends who have lost their homes in the Camp Fire and when an entire city is completely gone, I can’t imagine where one goes from here. It’s still too soon to know how people will come together to reclaim lives and establish some level of normalcy, somehow, but that will happen. The fires aren’t yet extinguished, so that’s the next hurdle. Hard to imagine!

  17. It’s good to read that you are safe and in no danger through these weeks of danger. But I sure understand that you are not unaffected. And I do agree with you that it’s in times like this that we human need to show compassion and interdependence and stay connected as well. The words by Thomas Merton are spot on.

  18. Dear Debra, thank you for sharing with us your thoughts on the scarring of land and psyche in California. As you know, I so believe in the Oneness that Thomas Merton is explaining in your first quotation. While in the convent, I read all his books. They greatly influenced my life then. His thoughts and beliefs settled into the marrow of my bones and the strength of my heart and have informed my life ever since. thank you so much for sharing his words. We all need to hear them now. Peace.

  19. Hi Debra, I’m sorry to be reading this post so late. I knew you were close to the Woolsey fire but didn’t fully realize you were less than 50 miles away. I’m so sorry for all you are going through. Our beautiful state! It’s been devastating to contemplate, and frustrating to feel so helpless at a time when we all want to help. You’re wise to disengage from the lies and insults and dribble that flows on a daily basis. It’s truly salt in the wound. I’m heartened by the rescue stories, people taking in strangers, and have found ways to support others via an Amazon wish list, a couple of GoFundMe campaigns, and even hand written notes at my local WW meeting. Your’e such a good soul. Your posts help all of us breathe lighter. xo

  20. Such wise words, Debra. The world has become an often overwhelming place, and these two tragedies in the Los Angeles area are devastating. If only, as you wrote, we could come together and focus on where we are similar rather than our differences, how much better would the world be for all of us? Thank you for you meaningful and appreciated thoughts. xo

  21. Weather has been violent. It seems that fire has become a regular annual disaster, people have endured so much… Thank you for letting us know you are safe, Debra.

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