It’s a beautiful morning here, green and alive. Finches are playing around our bird feeder, the sun painting their backs with a line of bright yellow. Only the smoky tang in the air—a smell that bites the very back of your nose and throat—would betray that something’s amiss in Colorado Springs.
That same bite was in the air yesterday when I went to work—before Colorado Springs was torn through by flames from the Waldo Canyon Fire. A hundred or more homes have been destroyed, I hear. The Flying W Ranch, a local landmark, is no more. I think that, for now, my house is relatively safe—but there's no way to know for sure and the fire's still threatening. And today promises to be another hard, hard day.
We're told sometimes, particularly in Christian circles, that it's good to hold our things lightly: They could be snatched away at any time.
Easier said than done.
I was in Denver when the fire blew up, checking out an advance screening of The Amazing Spider-Man. I heard about the new evacuations on my way home, fighting the beginnings of rush-hour traffic. I called my wife, Wendy, to see what was going on.
“We’re leaving,” she said before I could ask. “We can see the flames. We’re throwing stuff in the back of the truck. Can’t talk—bye.”
This is what they saw coming over the hill behind our house (my daughter-in-law took the photo). I can see why they might've wanted to hurry.
The news just kept getting worse the closer I got to the Springs. A massive, gray-brown cloud spread over the city like a Roland Emmerich special effect. As I drove into the smoke, the landscape took on a surreal, orangish hue, as if I was driving on the surface of Mars. Radio reporters talked about how the rock quarry—where my house sits right in front of—wasn’t even visible anymore because of the smoke. Ash was falling like snow, they said. Houses were burning, they said. They were leaving the site for their own safety.
It felt like it took weeks to reach my parents' house. My family—my wife, my son and his wife and my 18-year-old daughter—were safe and in pretty good spirits, considering. My daughter said she saved the fake mustaches she bought me for Father's Day. My son, who works at Wal-Mart, never imagined he'd need to push the "natural disaster" button as to why he wouldn't be coming into work. (Number 6, in case you're curious.) For an hour or so, we turned off the news and flipped on a bad B-horror movie (Snowbeast), ate pot pies and enjoyed each other's company. It was great in a way. It felt normal. Comfortable.
But even though things felt OK for a bit, they weren't. Not really. At about midnight, most of the family rousted themselves out of bed to gather our possessions again and put them in our cars—worried we might lose this temporary sanctuary to mandatory evacuation, too. My daughter slept with the lights on all night.
New perspective comes with morning, though, and more importantly, more information. It looks like, for now, our home is OK—though flanked by burn on three sides. Fire conditions will be brutal again today, filled with unpredictable winds and temperatures close to triple digits. Tonight, we may be joining the many, many families in our neighborhood who have lost their homes.
In the spate of publicity I've been doing for God on the Streets of Gotham, I've been asked a time or two whether I believe God can work through anything. It's always been a hard question for me to answer, because I know there are times when God seems distant or impotent or, depending on our outlook, even vindictive. But using Batman as an example—the loss of his parents at such a young age—my standard answer has been a wary "yes." God doesn't necessarily create your hardships or tragedies, but he can work through them.
The Waldo Canyon Fire pulled a Joker on me: "Really?" it seemed to say. "Do you mean that?"
In the midst of my uncertainty and worry and heartache for neighbors and friends who have indeed lost everything, I feel that I can still say yes. I don't know where God was when the fire started. I have no clue why His help feels so far away now, as wind and sun collude with the fire. I'm sick with anxiety. Truth be told, I feel a little angry—like a petulant toddler who just wants the hurt to stop.
But in the midst of it all, I can feel God with me, in a way. I can see His fingerprints around the edges. I'm so touched by the friends who've called or e-mailed or Facebooked me, offering us their homes or help or their prayers. I feel, more powerfully, all that God has given me—the people I love and treasure most of all. It reminds me that, even in disaster, life goes on. All of us live on the edge of a razor, and maybe some of us—folks like me who can grow a little too comfortable—needed to be reminded of that now and then.
I'm anxious. I'm hurt. The losses this city's experienced—houses and history, trees and trails—are staggering, and I feel them quite personally. I know the losses will continue to mount and may grow more personal yet. But more than all the heartache and worry, I feel another thing most of all.