at 11:43 PM
Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

This article is more than 4 years old.

In the year since the North Bay fires, psychologist Kate Gustin has seen the deep harm of emotional and physical trauma. She’s also seen the triumph of a caring and compassionate community.

Anniversaries carry significance. But, of course, not all anniversaries are celebratory. The upcoming anniversary of the North Bay fires marks a full year since devastating wildfires demolished 240,000 acres and thousands of homes in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties. Forty-four people died.

For my clients and colleagues who lost their houses, the anniversary marks a year of displacement, dispossession, homelessness. To this day, they continue to negotiate with insurance companies.

For those who didn’t lose their homes, but had to flee, the year was still marked with the same psychological fallout: of having been stripped of the illusion of security and immortality we all take for granted. The fires also divested many of the human pretense of self-sufficiency. It humbled those affected into accepting help from others.

This leads me to consider another angle into this anniversary: that it also marks a year of community, of people responding to the needs of others. Compassionate friends, relatives, even strangers demonstrated generosity. Their support reflects what humanity at its best is capable of, when people step out of their silos of self-interest.


And the need for such collective care continues. As anyone who had suffered loss knows, a year is but a drop in the bucket when it comes to the process of grieving and reclaiming one’s uprooted life. This is especially true given that survivors often relive the trauma in their bodies as post-traumatic stress.

Last year my family was lucky; the fires did not approach our neighborhood. I don’t know if we will be as fortunate again. In truth, we can never really know whether our homes, our lives, will fall into the grace of protection from harm. But I don’t intend to live in fear. Though there are no guarantees, I appreciate the relative safety I have in my life now. And, I am grateful for the abundance of kind people who make it worth living through whatever harrowing circumstances may arise in the future.

With a Perspective, I’m Kate Gustin.

Kate Gustin is a psychologist and mental health director.