Out of the Ashes, Hope Remains

By Barbara Wood, Red Cross Volunteer

The story Aaron and Heather told me last month as they sat outside a Red Cross shelter in Mariposa eating dinner pierced my heart.

They and two of their four children had lived for the past year in a very, very special complex, at the top of a dead-end road.  The complex was built by a Vietnam vet, who when he returned from the war said he wanted to build a village that wouldn’t be destroyed. The structures, including several sleeping cottages, a central kitchen and dining area and a meditation hut where visitors often stayed, were handmade from cedar, with views out to tall trees and mountainside.  Statues of Buddha and other benevolent figures were scattered around the property, as were special rocks and crystals the family had collected over the years.

On Friday, July 22, however, the family had gone into Merced to run errands when the Oak Fire started and quickly spread. By the time they heard about evacuation notices and tried to get home to rescue some of their treasures, the roads were closed.

The fire took their home and everything they owned.

After telling their story, Aaron and Heather gave each other such a heartful and anguished hug that as I took a photo of, then I thought to myself: “We just can’t use this photo unless they approve it first – it’s too raw and private.”

But Heather and Aaron said they wanted others to understand what they had been through, and gave us permission to use the photo and their story.

Before they left, I asked the couple if I could give them a hug, and when I did so I started to cry because I could feel their pain at their loss, and their strength and resolve to recover.

That night Heather texted me that they had found a temporary home to move into, and in subsequent days they let us know when they were stopping by the shelter so they could pick up some meals and we could visit.

One evening, Aaron was very upset when he arrived. It seemed they had visited their homesite and found two of their cats didn’t make it. I gave him another hug and told him how sorry I was. I was proud of myself because this time I didn’t cry.

Then Aaron said he had something for me. He pulled a piece of lava rock out of his pocket. He had dug the rock out of the ashes of their home. They had originally found the rock, which they said is called snowflake obsidian, at the top of a nearby mountain.

I cradled the rock in my hand, and just started to bawl. The gift of this rock, born in the fire of a volcano and then pulled out of the ashes of a fire – meant so much.

After Heather and Aaron left another Red Crosser who had witnessed the interaction from nearby said to me: “What just happened?”

“They gave me a rock,” I sobbed. And then explained.

Soon, another Red Cross volunteer called a friend who collected rocks and crystals to ask about my gift. Her friend said snowflake obsidian can take away negative emotions.

When I looked it up online this is what I found: “This material dissolves shocks, fears and traumas, dissolving both physical and emotional pains. Like a sky full of beautiful snowflakes, snowflake obsidian restores something: a deep, abiding sense of protection and reverence.”

For the rest of my time in Mariposa, I handed around my rock to other volunteers or kept it on my desk when I was working. It was just what we all needed.

I plan to put it on my fireplace mantle where I have some other treasured objects, but I also just might bring it in on my Red Cross assignments too.

After all – I think that working to ease shocks, fears and traumas and restoring a sense of protection and reverence is why we all joined the Red Cross.

To find out how you can help during a disaster, visit: redcross.org.

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