Finding Serenity Amidst Chaos

Northern California continues to be pummeled by wildfires. The wake of destruction is taking a toll.  As of today, 36 have been killed; 5,700 homes and business have been destroyed. The fires have burned more than 212,000 acres. Families have lost so much. Many, including my in-laws, have had to evacuate since early in the morning on October 9. Just this morning, residents in northeast Santa Rosa were awakened before dawn by the blaring of fire engine sirens and told to evacuate immediately.

Reporters at the Marin IJ and hundreds of news outlets including my wife and her team at the Press Democrat, have spent countless hours sifting through the updates to keep the public informed. Our city and local police and sheriffs have done a great job of notifying the public immediately through Nixel alerts.( text 888777 and enter your zip code) Our Councilman Mike Harris shared these numbers from county Supervisor David Rabbitt

Tubbs Fire 34,770-25% contained
Pocket Fire 9,996-5% contained
Nuns Fire 44,381- 5% contained
Presley Fire 473- 10% contained
Total acreage 89,620

Expected Full Containment 10/20/17

Pocket Fire active overnight burning in southern and eastern edges

Tubbs burning on northern and eastern edges

Nuns and Presley burning in heavier fuels

272 Engines
29 water tenders
12 helicopters
6 air tankers
62 hand crews
23 bulldozers
2,333 personnel

Fire fighters and Police officers from all of California have pulled together to protect people, homes, and attempt to contain the growing inferno.

Thousands of businesses and volunteers have donated food bedding, clothing and supplies to local evacuation shelters.

There is connection, compassion, and care unlike any I have ever experienced. The outpouring of support is amazing. So much so that some shelters have had to turn away volunteer help and donations.

Other churches, like Glide Memorial, have sent teams to serve at New Life Christian Fellowship in Petaluma and later in Napa.

There is a sense of unity among people. My family and me have been spared for now. Yet I still am trying to process all of this. It is too much to process 24-7.  Where do I help? How do I deal with my anxiety?

I turn to prayer. I try and find a quiet place to enjoy nature. I want to find a bit of quiet and tranquility among all this chaos. Then I feel guilty, like I should be helping someone, serving others. I have my own facemask. And have others for the family.

Yesterday I needed to find a bit of solitude and also wanted to see if I could get to my in-laws home to see whether it was still standing and to quiet my anxiety.  After driving by several roadblocks along Petaluma Hill Road, I landed at Howarth Park at the northern edge of Santa Rosa. Much of the area had already been evacuated the day before.  The parking lot was nearly empty. It was like a ghost town.

I snapped a few photos to capture the still lake. Several miles northeast the fire blazed on. But for a moment, I felt calm. It was eerie.  A lone man sat in a canoe on the glassy lake, fishing.

 

Howarth Park

Lone man on Lake – Howarth Park 10-13-17

 

I then wanted to see how far northeast I could go. I drove along the heavily wooded road along Spring Lake. It looked like an oak-studded tunnel. I worried that if the fire were to come down this road could quickly become a fire tube gaining momentum as it raced toward more homes and businesses.  I reached the end of the road at Highway 12 and Melita Road, then looped back down highway 12 past Calistoga Road and stopped to snap a shot of the famous Flamingo Hotel. I wanted a shot for my wife and family, just in case.

Flaimngo Hotel, Sant Rosa CA

The air was still, as if a calm before the next fire storm. The hotel had already been evacuated.

Then this morning I saw the Nixel alert that that very area was being evacuated at the crack of dawn.

My heart goes out to all. We will get through this.  I am glad that I took a moment to pause and be grateful that I was alive—that our family and home was safe for the time being.

I encourage everyone to pause, if you can, and take a moment to be grateful to be alive. Take a moment to get outside to a calm area—to give yourself a break from the turmoil. It was healing for me. Yet tensions persist. I snapped at my wife on our anniversary. We made up. I need to be cognizant and mindful that we all are in this together. I have no idea what others are experiencing. Yet, for me, a little serenity in the midst of chaos can do wonders for my soul.

In 1987, while processing my own inner chaos during my first year of recovery, I wrote this poem.

           Serenity

 

Serenity is soft like a warm summer breeze

Serenity is the warmth of a fire on a cold winters day

Serenity smells like the blossoms of spring

Serenity is radiant like the setting sun

Serenity is peace when we are alone

Serenity has a place in my heart and my home

Serenity is a friendly smile when we feel blue

Serenity is acceptance of things as they are

Serenity is a phone call from a friend afar

Serenity is love of myself and my friends

Serenity is a feeling that doesn’t have to end

 

May God bless and protect us all as we go through this together.

Love, Shawn

For more insights on serenity and life, please visit https://shawnlangwell.com/

How can we be grateful amidst so much hate?

As the winds of change blow through and through, we look around to others and social media for what to do. Caught in the cross-fire of justice and hatred, we each have our own opinions and passion for what we believe to be just and true. When we feel slighted some will rise up and fight. Some may lash out at those whose views stand in direct opposition to our own.

I propose we set our sails into the wind and avoid the craggy shore of the “Alcatraz” of hate and predjudice.

I have been quiet for fear of offending and being subjected to criticism.

I can remain quiet no more.

We all have freedom of speech-freedom of choice.

We do not have to agree.

I am going to share a few opinions that may be in direct opposition to your own.That is a risk I am willing to take. I am not going to discuss political right or wrong  nor where I stand on the spectrum.  I will, however, say my position and perspective, is much the same as the late Martin Luther King Jr.. He fought for justice but was careful to come from a place of love, not hate. He has so many poignant quotes on how to address conflict. Here are a few of my favorites:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend. We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”
see more at:
MLK Jr. Quotes
I could write a thousand words and pack it full of quotes of this great man who fought so valiantly for human rights and dignity of the human soul.
His last quote, “What are you doing for others?” to me, is about personal responsibility. It is not about selfish gain nor retribution and justice. It, ultimately, is about being grateful for our own blessings and liberties, and using our resources to help others.
Not everyone wants or needs help. But I propose that everyone wants and needs love and acceptance. We need to be the change we seek. We need to share love.
As we roll into the holiday season, of Thanksgiving and Christmas, I take pause to look back at all I have been blessed with:
Freedom of choice, freedom of speech, freedom of religion. I am healthy and have more resources than I need– a home, love, a brain, sobriety, faith, and the capacity to forgive. I am blessed with family and friends who love me and  have been able to share their joy as my kids become responsible mature adults; everyone of voting age in our family exercised their right to vote. I am also filled with laughter as my stepson makes goofy snapchats and provides levity to our home to lighten the mood when we occasionally get bogged down in the day-to-day grind of work and responsibility.
I am grateful that I can skim past most of the propaganda and crap circulating on Facebook and other social media. I do my best to sift through the layers of crap, however, I often bristle at how freedom of speech and choice has driven a wedged between friends. I pause when something rubs me the wrong way then feel energized to do something about it. By holding true to my own beliefs of justice and equality, I choose to exercise my freedom of speech and write about it.
My stance is, and likely will always be, what can I do to be part of the solution and not the problem.
My answer is this-love people, where they are even if their view differs from mine.
This is challenging especially since most of my life I have been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, uninformed, arm-chair critic. If I didn’t agree with something someone said or they did something different than what I thought was th “right” way, I would do it, I would speak up; often very loudly and in a condescending way.
I see far too much conflict and spite being slung around on Facebook. People getting worked up about partial truths. It has become increasingly difficult to separate fact from crap. All I want is the truth and justice. Cut the bullshit.
I am not immune to falling into this trap and am guilty of getting worked up over stuff that I have very little information about. Sometimes I will pause and look at something more objectively, but that is a rarity. When I consciously do step back, I can’t help but wonder if there is a powerful force at work instigating division among us all; a force in direct opposition to unity and peace.
Regardless, I get sucked into the fear vortex; worrying about a series of what ifs.
I agree, we need be mindful of being stripped of our liberty and freedom. But I also have a personal responsibility to get the facts straight before getting all worked up over a series future-tripping fears.
Please do not discount what I am saying as being opposed to those who choose to fight for justice. I want justice, but more than that I want the truth.
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” MLK Jr.
What I am saying is that when we are fighting each other as to who is right or wrong, we lose sight of the problem, and in effect, perpetuate it.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” MLK Jr.

 

By coming at the challenge with hate and not love, we will NEVER  find peace.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” MLK Jr.

Do not get me wrong, I am just now beginning this process. It takes a concerted effort to hear “both sides” of any position. It does NOT mean I have to accept to agree with the opinions of others. It just means that I have to be mature enough to listen.
I am blessed beyond belief by a large group of friends who are looking to solutions and getting their voices heard and doing so peacefully.
I also have a group of close friends who I can count on to lift me up when I feel down. I have a wife who lives me unconditionally. I have dreams and goals and  hopes and dreams. Many have already become a reality, like writing and publishing my first book, Beyond Recovery A journey of Grace,Love, and Forgiveness. Beyond Recovery
I am eternally grateful for those who’ve gone before me and those who choose to rise above hatred and yield a sword of love in an effort to maintain and further promote peace.
I have dedicated my life into the service of others and, if in some small way, this piddly blog helps to light a fire under your own ass, then go out there and love someone. I guarantee you will feel better.
Love, Shawn