Thursday, August 10, 2023


My heart's breaking for victims of the Maui firestorm, which at this writing has killed at least 36. I didn't post earlier because I didn't think I had anything novel or interesting to say about it. This morning I decided I did.

I chose this photo, from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, of flames racing over the hills toward houses below because it could have been taken of my neighborhood in 2017. I was them. Right now, those people don't know what hit them. As I described in A Fire Story, they're living in a tiny bubble, focusing on themselves and their families, trying to meet their immediate needs for shelter and food. They're trying to figure out this afternoon, not next month. In time they'll look up and their focus will expand to other people and longer goals, but not yet. 

If I could advise them, I'd say: Set your priorities. Structure helps. Wake up every day and make a list. Check off what you can, then get up the next day and make another list. Put one foot in front of the other. You will breathe and even laugh again.

Don't be too embarrassed or proud to accept help. I can't tell you how many people I saw who had literally nothing but still declined aid, saying "Give it to someone who needs it more." Right now, that's you. Later on you can pay it forward. Take the help.

If I could advise their relatives and friends, I'd say: ask the victims what they need and really listen. They probably don't need piles of clothes, or teddy bears, or pots and pans, or canned food from the back of your pantry. For the next few weeks they'll be living on a cot or a friend's couch and have nowhere to put that stuff anyway. 

Honestly, for all the good intentions and generosity of people who tried their best, what we really appreciated and used were gift cards to places like Walmart, Target and Safeway (all stores that I see Maui has). Say what you want about big-box superstores, but in our disaster they were the only businesses that stayed open and had everything we needed in one place.

Don't fret about getting back to normal because you never will. The old normal is gone. But you will make a new normal; in fact, you're already making it without even realizing it. Someday, I hope, you'll be able to gather with the people who pulled you through, and who you helped pull through, and say, "Can you believe we did that?" It will feel like a different lifetime ago because it was. Look forward to that.

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