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Inferno Inspired Introspection

The #SCULightningComplex fire 2020
PC: Getty Images

The San Francisco Bay Area, and the East Bay in particular, is burning. The #SCULightningComplex fire has ravaged more than 340,000 acres in a week, with only 10% contained. My home is two blocks from the outer edges of the current evacuation warning zone. While the world still reels from the effects and after-effects of COVID-19, this fire is an added devastation to so many who are already struggling to make it to the next day.

When we moved to the Bay Area about a decade ago, from a tectonic stable region in the middle of Texas, my husband joked that if the next earthquake hit the area, we may end up with ocean front property. We had made a sudden decision to move and had committed to uprooting our lives within seven days of initial decision. At the time we picked our current home, we were driven by school districts and I did not consider natural disasters and our preparedness for it.

As it turns out, we live two blocks away from the Hayward Fault Line, which is responsible for one of the most devastating earthquakes in California's history at a 6.8 magnitude in 1868. There are many geological reports that suggest it may be overdue for another. Even though I have felt a few tremors since we moved here, I know that if something of that magnitude hits so close to home, hope will not be a strategy. We will try our best to keep our family safe, but I also accept the notion of 'when it's time, it's time'.

Through life's various experiences, I find myself almost apathetic towards these anomalies coming my way, or perhaps part of living is that we become conditioned to interpret these uncontrollable scenarios as being a normal part of living.


When COVID-19 hit and we were forced into lockdown, the sense of being imprisoned was debilitating. There are still days I get agitated at the end of the day, struggling to breathe from this claustrophobic feeling. Concurrently, I also experienced the glacial process of accepting life as it formed into a new normal of seeing the walls of my home as being a safe haven. My kids being healthy as the blessing. Getting the time to write as a gift from the Heavens.

As I have said in an earlier post, "the robustness of digital infrastructure will strengthen, to enable societies to fully function with minimal economic impact in face of similar disruptions." This manifests in various ways, but for me it has changed my social life. I have made so many connections with like-minded people through various discussion groups and publishing platforms that I have a sense of social fulfillment I haven't felt in a long time, especially from when things were 'normal'.

I have also been forced to simplify my life. I haven't shopped for new clothes in months, haven't been to the hairdresser since March, and there is no concept of impulse buying anymore. My limited outings have been trips to the grocery store as planning a family trip with people of ages ranging 6 - 75 is mutually exclusive with satisfying everyone.

Within the constraints, I have found spaces where I can continue to thrive and feel alive.


This is the first time in my life I have had to prepare for a possible evacuation. As I packed my one suitcase and backpack that hold memories and essentials for three of us (my husband packs his own), I somehow didn't feel any sadness about leaving rooms full of things behind.

At the end of the day, they are just that. Things. Many of these items have become assimilated into the fabric of my home such that I don't even notice them. With the forced simplified living over the last few months, the process of picking the handful of memory items became even easier.

Much of the necessary items to rebuild a functioning life is in my computer.

The people needed to rebuild a home are with me.

The soul to keep going is within me.


My parents and grandparents have lived through the 1947 Indian Partition. They left all their worldly possessions and made a home in new lands. Within a handful of decades, my family survived the Liberation War of 1971, and the war took its toll. My grandfather was martyred within weeks of the start of the 9 month long war (his body never found), leaving a young, needy family behind. My teenager mother was married off within the year as my half-widowed grandmother could not assure that she could protect my beautiful mother from unwanted attention from powerful quarters during a politically fluid time.

My youth is peppered with my traumatized mother's cries who would be reminded of gunfire when we were in the months of monsoon with loud thunderstorms. In addition to these macro issues shaping our lives, my parents struggled with further loss and financial troubles as my father worked to establish his business. One doesn't grow up in a home like this without learning to appreciate the more meaningful assets in life - the value of family and austerity.

My father says, "Always look down and only aspire to those above." Living in a poverty stricken country makes it a part of our lives to see millions who don't have basic life needs such as shelter and food. Gratitude is not really a choice.

From one of the poorest countries in the world, I made my home in one of the richest countries in the world, where I have lived for the majority of my adult life. I have met many who cannot visualize the life I knew and as such their spectrum of 'problems' is narrower than what I know it can be.

The higher we move up Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the more abstract our reasoning about needs vs wants. Having understood that, I have an appreciation for different ways people process the concept of what constitutes a problem. Just because someone else can have it worse does not invalidate the feelings of someone else whose problem set is narrower. Not every problem has to be cast in the context of a bigger problem, especially during times of acute stress.

As such, even though I know life can be worse, I also sympathize with my neighbors and friends who are worried for their home, family, health and future.

Tick, Tock

Until my internal clock finally decides to call it a day, there is no end to growing the mind and incorporate the ever-expanding universe of the human condition. Just when we think we have understood it, something shifts to remind us that complacency is our worst enemy. At the beginning of the year, I could not have imagined how 2020 would unfold. My biggest planned highlight was a trip to visit my parents. As COVID paired itself with new challenges in the professional world, I had thought that was quite enough for the year. Now, with this added layer of ash, soot and smoke, I am reminded that no matter how much my life's goal might be stability, my predestined vocation is to be as constant as change.

- mh (c) 2020

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Maheencağım, this piece brought tears to my eyes. You write so beautifully and so thoughtfully about life and what it means to be under a constant process of change, as is our human condition. Mashallah. Let us hope (as that is all that is left to us to do) that this too shall pass. I met with a friend yesterday whose husband is a Balinese Poet. He is also a Buddhist to the core. Nothing phases him, he has no expectations, he takes each day as it comes. What wonderful life training. The way he looks at the world also provides a lesson to be learnt.

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