Giving thanks for the community

At this moment, I am (hopefully) sitting on Santa Monica beach, having caravanned down Tuesday night to my original homeland of Southern California with my ex and our children to visit their grandfather in Santa Monica. We’ve probably taken the 395 down the state to avoid smoke and other air quality and visual disasters. I will drop them off and see them on Thanksgiving and head to my fiancé in Orange County.

We are thankful for the options — in travel, in living, in lifestyle, in having a few roofs over our heads both in Southern California and our adopted town of Greenville.

Thanksgiving was never one of my favorite holidays. As a military kid, it was never the same group of people twice in the same place and reminded me of our displacement from California. As a vegetarian most of my life, the starch fest options were less than optimal.

Seventeen years ago that changed for me.  My father-in-law puts on an extravagant feast in his Ocean Park neighborhood. Neighbors from all over Santa Monica would come bringing what ever they could or just themselves. My father-in-law is known for bringing homeless people he just met on the street to Thanksgiving and professors from nearby UCLA.

As Santa Monica gentrified and neighbors found themselves forced out of apartments they’d been in for decades, this became even more important — to keep a tradition alive even in times of displacement. The annual event became a time for old neighbors forced away by coastal economics to return. I have breastfed at that table — and now my kids smile and respond to questions on what they are creating to make the world better.

In addition to the potluck side dishes and the homecoming, came the talk into the night. Philosophy, politics local and national, and a role call of what artistic projects those present are working on at the moment is always fair game for lively discussion. Sometimes there’s even a rabbi to argue with.

What are you doing to give back to the community? Does anyone want to go for a walk down to the beach? Anyone up for a game of Scrabble? Anyone have news of marriages or babies? Mazel Tov!

Each year now, I look forward to Thanksgiving — even now in year two of divorce. I won’t be the only ex there either. Once a member of this fold, you are there for good. But I am a practitioner — like many of us — of multiple lives, multiple families, multiple hats, and multiple communities.

It has been near impossible to wake up each morning since the fire and not feel grateful to be a member of a strong community, to know that we all feel like “there but for the grace of God” in our lungs and breath.

The strong winds blew one way and not another — that’s what separated us up here from our own disaster. This time it was Paradise, it was part of the canyon, part of the ridge. Magalia. Concow. The families and the landmarks as we descend from the mountains and the valley floor. Deep in our bones, all of us who live in Plumas County know this to be true. It always could have been us. We are lucky this time.

I am grateful to witness the love and outpouring of generosity from Plumas County to help Camp Fire survivors whose houses have burned down and all of their possessions with them. Their animals wandering and lost. The remains of their neighbors slowly being found.

Camp Fire has proven that we can come together as a community. It proves that the differences in our ideology take a back seat to human kindness and love. We are sharing with our neighbors and helping where we can.

As I tried to track this generosity for the newspaper in Indian Valley, I found it near to impossible — it feels like everyone is somehow involved.

My son came home late the other night because he and his best friend were busy distributing items among fire victims camping out on his friend’s parents’ property. My mother emptied her closet of warm jackets and sweaters and pants — some of which she’d never worn.

I saw the horse trailer Suzette Demery Reed had parked outside the Taylorsville Historic Hall piled to the ceiling with donations. I know of at least five families in Indian Valley who’ve taken in other families temporarily.  Some volunteers are using official channels—the Red Cross, etc. Some are making hauls to Chico and passing out bags of donations to people now living in parking lots directly. Cannabis growers were making up medicinal kits to give away. We are attempting to take care of our neighbors.

In this way, we inhabitants of the mountains are our own chosen family. For those of us not born and raised in Plumas County — and that’s at least a third of us — it most certainly feels like an affirmation in our decision to move here. We chose the right place to put new roots down: A community that helps each other and its neighbors.

Happy Thanksgiving. May we celebrate each in our own way, a day of being grateful for the life we still have, its abundance and our service to others.

I look forward to the dinner table on Thursday in Santa Monica and telling the folks surrounding my father-in-law’s table about the people of Plumas County and how they’ve taken it upon themselves to be an extraordinary community that gives.

“Thou didst turn for me my mourning into dancing; Thou didst loose my sackcloth, and gird me with gladness; So that my glory may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent.”—Tehilim, Chapter 30 (Book of Psalms).

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