On my bike ride today, I was riding through an area in California where July fires had incinerated over 100,000 acres. The devastation is heartbreaking, an unspeakable epitaph of charred, blackened landscape in every direction. But as I rode, I couldn’t help noticing something else among the soot smirched rocks, at the base of seared trees, spreading through the wide-open ashen patches. Green shoots of grass are bursting up through char glazed sandy loam, new branches are extending from blackened tree trunks, tender leaders are emerging amid the brittle, cinder shafts of former branches.
I stopped for a minute just to look. It’s stunning to see life not just daring to return after the ravages of the inferno that swept through these hills only a few months ago, but insisting on it, like a defiant, lone flower pushing up through a freeway seeking the light, eager to bloom, undeterred by the odds against its survival.
This fire was brutal, but the experience of life undaunted following in its wake, determined to begin anew, was an experience of nothing less than the miraculous. I marveled at how seeds just beneath the surface could survive the blast furnace unscathed and stretch their embryonic cotyledon leaves up through the ash as the first sips of winter rain soaked and swelled their parched husks, and how the roots, deep in the earth, had marshalled their forces and were sending out new shoots to replace what had been consumed by the flames. The fire was terrible, but it’s long been snuffed out. Life however, has not, and it is reiterating its resilience, its determination to thrive as shoot by shoot, grass blade by grass blade, it begins the process of restoring the forest.
I thought about how people also have their seeds and the roots of who they truly are tucked safely below the surface, and how we too weather our tragedies on the outside, yet deep within, our souls are untouched, and when we’re ready, we move ahead, compelled by life and its inexhaustible desire for creative, joyful expression.
We are tempted sometimes to train our focus on the tragedies we experience, to carry them with us, burdens of misfortune not just visiting their travails upon us but settling in as companions on our journeys, new squares stitched in to our patchwork quilt identities. Our miracles, though, come when we can shift our focus and look beyond the tragedy to what’s on the other side of it, look beyond “the falling down,” and celebrate “the getting back up.”
I’m glad I had a chance to see beyond the fire, see beyond the devastation and death in the forest, and witness the miracle of regeneration that’s happening on those blistered hillsides. It’s there for anyone to see – a miracle of regrowth, of daring existence, of uncontainable faith and unstoppable life. In fact, it’s happening everywhere, all the time, if we can but look only briefly upon the tragedy, and remember to embrace instead, the miracle beyond it.