Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What is a catastrophe

Last night I was talking to our neighbor about the fire. She is struggling much like I am (which is oddly comforting as it makes me feel like my feelings are NORMAL!). She recounted a conversation with a friend about the fact that the friend got that the fire was catastrophic, but it was hard for her to really believe that it was. It got me thinking. What is a catastrophe? defines catastrophe as 1) a sudden and widespread disaster or 2) any misfortune, mishap, or failure. The fire was certainly sudden. It swept up the hillside in a matter of minutes. Widespread? I think it's at least worth considering it as widespread since nineteen homes were greatly affected and several more had at least some damage. Disaster? Absolutely. The aftermath of the fire can only be described as a disaster scene (which is why Disaster Clean-Up was here, right?!).

The geologic definition of catastrophe is a "a sudden, violent disturbance, [especially] of a part of the surface of the earth." I also think that the fire qualifies under that definition. A violent disturbance is likely one of the best ways for me to describe the fire that I've found yet. Not only was it a violent disturbance to the Earth and the neighborhood landscape, but it has been a violent disturbance to my mental and emotional state.

I think back to the initial reaction by the community. I think that everyone would have agreed in the days after the fire that we had experienced a catastrophe. But I wonder if people still believe that. And if not, how can your opinion change so suddenly (or what feels sudden to me)? Is it over-exposure by the media? Is it simply time? Is it that we have new homes?

A lot of times I get the response that at least we have our health. As though that would be a catastrophe worth talking about (which it would). But that minimizes the struggles we've been through. I know that my physical health has been negatively impacted by the fire. I have been to the ER more times this year than I could possibly have imagined. I lost movement in half my face and still struggle with the lasting side effects of the nerve damage. Stress is a systemic issue, and this year has sunken me lower than what I thought possible.

But what I think it comes down to is that everyone has their traumas. For some it might be a cancer diagnosis. For others a car accident. For me, a house fire. And it's not fair to compare the traumas because in all of them there is a commonality of loss, of struggle, of an attempt to overcome. It's not for me or you to judge how anyone deals with that experience because we can't know another's pain or sense of loss. I have tried to convey here what it is that has made this loss so difficult. I'm still trying to figure that out for myself, really. What I recognize is that for me it was a catastrophe. For me, it has been difficult. But I also know that I have the strength to get through it... for what other choice do I have?

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