(From a talk given by Laura Benjamin Lollar on June 11, 2017, at the Black Forest Wildfire 4th Anniversary Memorial. Published in the Black Forest News & Palmer Divide Pioneer.)
F. Scott Fitzgerald, the American short story writer and novelist said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
From what I remember from the Black Forest Wildfire and the four years that have passed since then, all of us have done two things: we experienced loss and we learned. I learned patience. Carolyn learned hard work. Rich learned never give up; never stop fighting.
We learned many things: that we had to get our telephone service disconnected even though there was no house there; that we had to stop garbage collection even though you’d think that would have been common sense!
We learned a lot along the way: we learned how to work with one another, support our families and friends, to resupply ourselves, how to think carefully about all of the things we lost in our homes and create that gosh-awful inventory list. (Probably next to childbirth, that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done!)
We learned how to support one another. To have compassion for one another even though some of us were able to bounce back very fast, and others to this day are still struggling. We learned that we are not victims — we are survivors!
We are survivors because we’re able to persevere, to move forward and think optimistically about the future. We’re able to make hay out of things that otherwise could have been a long term tragedy; for example, the Park that’ going in over there on George and Terri’s property to the north of the Community Center.
We miss the people who were lost in the fire, Mark and Robin. We also miss a number of our neighbors and relatives who were lost to us before the fire and in the years to follow. We survived because we have been tested before and most likely we will be tested again.
I’d like to share with you a symbol of what was motivational for me after the fire. My little log cabin was formerly owned by Edith Wolford. It was built in 1924. After we were able to go back out on the property and take a look at what was left behind, there wasn’t much, right? There wasn’t much left to be able to salvage.
On the top of the fieldstone fireplace, up on the mantle, were two little ceramic houses my mom and dad had given me — the kind you put lights in at Christmas time.
Everything else was destroyed. My cast iron skillet, which had been on top of the stove was warped. Nothing was around except ashes, melted glass, metal pieces from my mom’s piano, etc. But on the top of the mantle were these two little ceramic houses. You can see there’s melted shingles on the top of it. But it’s intact. Other than the fact that the paint has been burned of it, it’s 100 percent intact.
This is what I see as a representation of us here in Black Forest. We’re strong because, like this ceramic house, we have been “fired” before. We will be put through the first and be tested again in the future. But we will survive and will make something positive out of it.
A friend of mine recently talked about those who still struggle with PTSD, with depression and anxiety. He said, “It’s not who you are — it’s what happened to you.” Ladies and gentlemen, I can think of no better community to be part of than to be neighbors and friends with all of you. I’m blessed to be part of Black Forest and I’m blessed to know we will survive, no matter what happens to us again in the future.
Contact Laura to discuss engaging her to present her motivational speech, Wildfires of Change.