Napa Quake 2014
We are a culture that is constantly searching for our community. We do this by aligning ourselves with products, political groups and these days we especially do it through social media. However we find our sense of community or our purpose is really to find a sense of normalcy in the chaos of things that are all competing for our attention. This is strange when you think about it because this is now the world in which we live. It seems to consist of millions of voices all screaming and begging for the world to somehow pay attention to us. We are social media junkies in search of normalcy in the midst of “spin” and propaganda so much so that it’s hard not to see the strings that are being pulled and the angles in which people are trying to beg for our sympathies. It’s also the easiest way to remove ourselves from the world around us. In fact, this is the new “normal,” but should it be? I have been struggling with this idea of normalcy for quite some time. In fact, Sunday morning we were going to wake up, get the kids ready for church and maybe even have an afternoon lunch near Downtown Napa. Those were our plans before a 6.1 earthquake woke us up. Everything that came after was kind of a blur. Even though we were intent upon still going to church and trying to maintain our routine, for the sake of our kids and ourselves, Sunday was not going to be a normal Sunday no matter how hard we tried. Earthquakes and disasters, in general, have a way of doing that. They have a way of forcing perspective on us in a way that might make us have to get our hands dirty. This significance is important because Facebook, Twitter and even Google Plus have created an even greater sense of sterility and absenteeism never before seen in our global communities. The whole world is now watching the mess that is out there, but are we really participating in that mess? I suppose more importantly do we even want to participate in anything that happens outside of our small worlds anymore that doesn’t feel somewhat contrived and self serving? On our way to church our morning drive was filled with earthquake chatter. We wondered how people were. We wondered about our community. We wondered about Downtown Napa. My wife wondered about her work at the Historical Society and whether or not she even had a job anymore. When we thought about it we were happy to go to church and away from our computers and mobile devices. It seemed like these things weren’t offering us what we needed anyway. In midst of this mess what we were really doing was trying to find this sense of belonging to something bigger than us. Maybe that’s what is so central to humanity and its core. At the end of the day we want to know what it all means – especially if we are coping with tragic circumstances. We want to know if there’s something or someone that can help us grasp and define what that thing is. It is that aspect of community that sometimes contributes to our definition of faith or hope as well. These days we want an immediate diagnosis to something that only time and perspective can give. This is especially true when all of your usual coping tools aren’t there for you. It’s why we go to our churches or temples or mosques. We go to find something that is bigger than us. So when we discovered that our church was closed for example we knew we had to go to Downtown Napa instead. Maybe we were in search of something else that would help us make sense of what had really happened at 3:20 in the morning. Maybe we just wanted to see the damage for ourselves. Whatever the reason we were not completely prepared to see so many buildings in various states of brokenness. We were not prepared to see the faces of business owners, forlorn and shell-shocked. We were not prepared to see pieces of the Goodman library, the place where my wife worked, all over the steps and around the sidewalk in front of the building. Laid in 1901, the irony of the building’s historical significance and future peril seemed as shaken as the rubble on the street. It’s funny how much things can change in an instant or how strange it is to experience the world apart from the Internet and Facebook and social media. There is a real world out there in need that doesn’t need contrived gimmicks and just needs our real help. For me transitioning from a life once based in Southern California to Northern California has always been quite a lonely experience. All I have in Northern California is my family. There isn’t anything else that anchored me here or to help me take ownership in this community until this crisis or disaster (if you will). I want to tell you how much this community means to me. Ironically, I never really looked at Napa until the week before the quake. It wasn’t until I bought a new camera that I even considered that there was a very real beauty or history here. Sure there was what people told me, or what people show on social media or even what some might have said about wineries for example, but none of this resonated with me. Not truly. Not until I was walking around the city on Sunday morning. Not until I saw the bricks on the streets, the rubble on the ground and the people in streets. This was no longer just their reality, but mine as well. As strange is it may sound, I could feel the difference even a couple of days later. Maybe it takes a crisis to remind us that we need people around us to help us make sense of our lives even when we don’t want be here or immersed in this moment now. Maybe we need to take a step away from the crazy campaigns that ask us to dump water on our heads and donate a few dollars to some random cause and think about the real problems that are just outside our doors. I am reminded of this continued idea of community even as I returned on Wednesday with a cousin, who is also a photographer, to take pictures of the fallen places and maybe some faces of those that weren’t there on the first day. I returned with new eyes and was even able to see smiling faces in the midst of the debris - some even posed in front of the Goodman library with the rubble and fallen stones in the background. But in the middle of it all I saw a new beginning with this thing I used to casually know as the wine country. I returned with a renewed perspective about Napa in general. Maybe it took something catastrophic for this place to finally begin to resonate within me – I don’t know. Maybe I never will. But I hope this changes me for the better. In a couple of days, Napa will go from the forefront to the background of your mind. I am here to offer you more than just a perspective about awareness. There is a story here and continues move forward as the community picks up the pieces. They will come together again. They will put the pieces back together. The church will open its doors again. And we will go back to our Sunday mornings as we did before. I can only hope that when we finally do that we remember the significance of our community and how it can all change in an instant. I hope that we all take the world around us a little more seriously and consider that our actions can either impact the world or they can just be another passive glance on social media sites as they scroll down to the clever videos of men, women and children with ice buckets. Maybe one day that will be the thing that resonates with me long after I leave this place – maybe I can help raise a better awareness of a very real world in need that just might be outside your doors.