It’s amazing how perspective can shift in a week.
Just a few days ago, the hot news in the headlines was the defeat of a soccer powerhouse. The U.S. Women’s World Cup team – two-time defending champions! – made their earliest ever departure from the tournament, knocked out by Sweden in a game that came down to a fraction of an inch. For a team that had never finished lower than third, this was a Moment, one that could not be looked away from.
I’d planned to write about that moment. And then came the unthinkable words.
“Maui’s on fire.”
By now, we’ve all seen the photos, read the headlines. Lahaina burned to the ground. At least 80 dead as I write this, surely more now. Stark scenes from a place of beauty, transformed into devastation.
In a weird way, the news was all too familiar. Every Coloradan knows much too much about wildfires and the destruction they can bring. With just a spark in the wrong place, the whole grim parade of events can start anew: evacuations, containment efforts, choking air, the memories of a lifetime reduced to ash.
It’s lit the Mountain West over and over, seared itself into our brains and our reflexes. The smell of smoke, imprinted on a state’s DNA.
This summer, we’d actually allowed ourselves to breathe a bit. After all, this year we had rain. And rain. And rain again. High rivers and flooding produce their own dangers, of course (don’t we know THAT well?) but at least one old enemy could be kept at bay for a while.
So when those old painful images reappeared, this time in the heart of an island paradise, it seemed surreal. Even that word doesn’t go far enough, I know, for those who have ties to Hawaii … an out-of-place nightmare made far too real.
There’s a lot that’s still ahead. There always is. Disaster only seems to know two speeds: heartbreakingly fast when it’s in the moment and painstakingly slow in the days and weeks and months after, as people try to recover, rebuild and learn just what the heck happened.
But as Maui’s story continues, there’s one other shadow of the past that’s been revived. A welcome one.
In every disaster, we re-learn the meaning of the word “neighbor.” Not just the person whose property happens to bump against yours, but the person who needs help that you can give. Time and again, we rise up to help someone else rise.
Some have given money. Some have given sweat. People have reached out to schools, to families, to animal shelters. And in every act, large and small, we do more than rebuild an area. We rebuild ourselves as well – the idea that wherever we are, whoever we may be, we share a tie that makes us one.
We recognize a common pain. And in meeting it together, we make all of us stronger.
It’s a Moment. One worth more than any championship.
The cameras will eventually move on. That’s the nature of news and of human attention. But it’s not the end of the story. And it should never be the end of that spirit.
We’re a community. A family. A team.
And whatever lies ahead, we’ll pass through the fire together.