It has been over a year since the devastating fires in Santa Rosa wiped out lives, homes, businesses, wildlife, forests, and many dreams. For a while, I thought the county would eventually calm, rebuild, and move into a new future, but then it all happened again with the Camp Fire (and many others) that scarred California border to border. Any thoughts I had about putting away my ash-based paints that I used for landscapes were set aside. We were healing all over again. Even before the trauma of the Tubbs Fire was dealt with, we were feeling our thin sense of security ebbing away.
As a therapist, I counsel many clients who have lost everything. Their stories break my heart. Not only have they lost their homes, jobs, pets, treasures, and the necessities of living, they have lost a sense of safety, the number one element in a person’s self-esteem.
Some were given enough in settlements to start over; some people fell through the cracks. They didn’t lose their home, as many in Journey’s End Mobile Home Park did, but they couldn’t live in the homes that remained standing without power and water. Yet insurance companies have stalled, and they are trapped in the frustration of having to move ahead without the means to do so.
What do we do with the ultimate frustration? The block that cannot be removed? The knot no sword can divide?
In his article on “Dealing with Despair: Dark Moments of the Soul”, Michael Woodward retells the story of Florence Chadwick, a famous long-distance swimmer. Close to finishing her swim from Catalina to California’s coast, fog moved in. It was too thick for her to imagine her goal. She couldn’t see ahead nor could she see the boat that followed close behind, and she gave up. She was a half mile from her destination. The fog had shattered her confidence.
Two months later, on a clear day, she could see the coast and set a record time for the swim. And now many in our own community are in the “fog”. Is it the fear of fire? The next dry season? The loss of ‘everything” that brings people to despair? I believe it is the uncertainty, like Florence Chadwick, the loss of hope that things can return to some kind of normal. They need reassurance even when they cannot believe or even imagine restoration.
Art speaks to that need. When we act creatively, either as a victim of destruction or an onlooker who feels compassion but cannot think of how to communicate it to others, art can fill that emptiness.
We show our love of humanity, of beauty, of emotion through our paintings, writings, music, … all forms of art. We reach out to others, especially at times like these. We share our thoughts, feelings and emotions. The observer feels it. Art is beyond words but very real. And very healing. British physicians are encouraging depressed patients to take dance and music lessons rather than merely pop Prozac. in Hull, England, physicians encouraged patients who had suffered strokes to play instruments, conduct and perform; 90 percent of these participants reported improvements in their physical and mental health.
The Santa Rosa Arts Center 312 South A Street in Santa Rosa, had a dynamic show after the Santa Rosa Fires and a followup show that spoke to recovery….The art was powerful and moving. People came in quietly, gazing at the works that covered images and creations of the shattered landscape and how the artists reacted to our communal losses. We as artists hope it helped to heal individuals and our collective grief.
Unfortunately, we have had more tragedy. Now, the center has another show: “Healing the Environment”. February 1st to March 22, 2019. The artworks “reflective our relationship to the environment and to our planet in this time of ecological crisis”. Feel the power of healing art.
“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only for one second without hope.”