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Stories from the valley

Seeking More Sunshine

Contributed by Jim Morris

Everyone everywhere is trying to endure 2020. Our long list of problems is well-chronicled, punctuated with record wildfires and smoke-filled skies. 

Some things we can’t control. One thing we can is our mindset; which is an important ingredient to surviving this year.

I recently traveled to Paradise to look for inspiration. I found it through art and a couple of motivating conversations.  

Located along the Skyway is Paradise’s Building Resiliency Center, set up to help the town recover from the devastating 2018 Camp Fire. At the center is this magnificent 800-pound Phoenix sculpture from local artist, Jessie Mercer.

The Phoenix is a mythological bird that rises from ashes, and there are several Phoenix renditions throughout the town. Mercer’s art is unlike anything I’ve ever seen – 18,000 keys from those impacted from the Camp Fire – keys to homes, Churches, businesses, cars, and schools. Fire destroyed Mercer’s art studio and her parent’s home.  She traveled 19,000 miles to gather materials and meet with other fire victims. The finished art is beautiful, emotional and photos don’t do it full justice. 

Speaking with Jessie provided me quite a lift.  In addition to her artwork, she’s a child life specialist, working in crisis care, doing foundational work to help children through this brutal time.

What’s her advice to get through the myriad of challenges of 2020?

“Love is everything,” she said. “Love and empathy are the two guiding lights to get through this. It’s OK to really hurt right now. We need to be kind and practice radical empathy where you’re always meeting people exactly where they are.”

The second positive news I experienced came from a talk with Steve Crowder, town Vice Mayor.  Although their town was devastated, the community is rebuilding and there’s a tangible positive spirit in town. 

How much love and loyalty is there in Paradise? In a typical year, the town approves 25-30 building permits. They’ve approved close to 1,200 since the fire, and that follows a nine-month process by FEMA to clean debris from the town.  Many displaced Paradise residents want to rebuild, and the town is doing what it can to help.

“I think the key to our recovery has been we geared up staff to accommodate the increased volume and we have initiated programs to help people rebuild quicker,” he remarked. “We have also been able to offer low-interest loans as well.  We want people to come back.”

It takes a lot to rebuild after such a disaster, but Crowder succinctly told me why the hard work will pay off.  As he put it, “Paradise is home.”

This year will continue to challenge. Hopefully, those in Paradise provide an example to us all of how we can rise from the ashes.