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Fires bring out our best. Let's be worthy

I moved into my dream house in Phoenix just last Christmas, after the death of my marriage, my mother and my father. I lost everything I owned in the fire other than some clothes, my computer, my car, my dog and a few CDs.

I was luckier than my neighbors because I was out of town at the time and had those things with me; I didn’t have less than five minutes to choose what meant the most to me and flee my home.

I lost family photographs, antiques, objects I had gathered in my travels, furniture, jewelry and other things that had been in my family for five generations, things I loved and wanted to pass on to my children; quilts, my son’s first tooth, things my family and friends had given me over 50 years. Almost every single item was unique and irreplaceable.

Unless you have been through that experience, you cannot imagine the pain and suffering you feel when you lose your history in an instant. While in general, material possessions aren’t important to me, these items had deep meaning for me. I am in shock, and will be grieving for a very long time.

But there are so many people so much worse off than I am: They lost everything and had no insurance, have nowhere to stay, no food, no clothes — nothing at all. I have seen Southern Oregon and beyond react with incredible generosity, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude. My friends and relatives and my church in Ashland have all reached out and asked what they can do, how they can help; I have seen the very best in people and have been reminded once again that we are all connected, that we all want the same things, that we can truly love each other in these divisive times. I will always be grateful to the firefighters who risked their lives to fight the fire, working through exhaustion while some of their own homes burned to try to save others’, and to save lives.

I understand that law enforcement has arrested a suspect who may have set part of the fire. My home and everything I own is gone, and this man may be responsible, and here’s the thing: He needs help. If he had received the help he needed, none of this would have happened. I feel no more animosity towards him than I would the lightning strike that might also have ignited the fire under different circumstances. But we as a society have failed him and everyone like him.

And before you dismiss me as a bleeding-heart liberal who knows nothing about life, let me tell you this: I worked in prisons for years, and I have read inmate files. People are capable of horrendous things. But they aren’t born that way; we create them.

People can talk about choice, but what kinds of choices do you have as an adult when your parent puts you in a frying pan when you’re a baby? When you are beaten daily? When you have nothing all your life, and feel that no one cares about you? When society marginalizes you and makes it clear you are less than?

Life is complicated, and when we try to simplify it to make our lives easier, to live in a black-and-white world, we do our country and its residents a grave disservice. We fail each other and ourselves. Instead, I live in the hope that our better natures will emerge as they do in the case of emergencies such as this one, and we will work to make a better life for every single one of us, to create a world where no one has to suffer — the way those of us who have lost everything have, and the way the person who allegedly set the fire also has.

We need to create jobs for the unemployed so they can experience the satisfaction and self-respect I did at making a living and supporting my family, to pull people out of generations of poverty, to ensure we all have enough to eat, a roof over our heads, emotional support, health care and a good education. And while we’re at it, let’s do something about climate change. As the wealthiest nation in the world, and good-hearted people, we are absolutely capable of that.

Instead of fighting each other, we can put our heads together, think creatively, and work together as a nation to solve the issues that plague our society. Let’s take care of each other and love each other; let’s focus on the gospel of Jesus, who urged us over and over to love each other, feed each other, heal each other.

Let’s be our best selves.

Much love to you all.

Virginia Rea, lately of Phoenix, wrote this in Packwood, Washington.