As I write this, crews are working hard to protect the town of Grand Lake and Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge from the East Troublesome Fire (what a name, aren't they all troublesome), which grew exponentially in size since yesterday afternoon.
Even though I can't do anything but wait, the threat of this fire consumes my thoughts and feelings this morning. The world feels so small when tragedy comes knocking on your doorstep, as though nothing else matters. Perhaps you know the feeling?
My to-do list pails in comparison to keeping my attention and focus on "getting a handle" on this situation. I wonder how I or anyone else can get anything done at a time like this.
And yet, the rest of the world carries on throughout their day. I remember feeling shocked at this reality years ago when I experienced a similar tragedy. "How can they act like everything is fine?" I asked myself incredulously.
But if I think about it, I have to admit that others around me have suffered tremendous loss in the past, due to natural disasters, or violence against black bodies, or any number of tragedies, and I too carried on as though nothing had changed. Meanwhile, their world shrank and their lives became consumed!
This awareness enables me to see valuable lessons in this experience. That when tragedy strikes and people's lives become consumed by it, we, as leaders, need to show compassion and empathy. We must pause, to not just acknowledge their pain and struggles, but to connect with them, where they are at.
It's easy to want to numb, to become desensitized to the suffering of others. It might feel like too big a burden to hold. Yet, when we make space within ourselves and our hearts for holding their suffering, we strengthen our own resiliency for navigating when tragedy strikes us.
This awareness in me now has been inspired by the practice of Tonglen that I learned from Pema Chödrön. A practice where we acknowledge that others are suffering like we are. And to hold that collective suffering with love and compassion.
Such a practice is simple yet the impact is profound. When in the midst of suffering, with our world shrinking and our thoughts fixated on a narrow sliver of reality, doing something that both acknowledges the pain and expands one's perspective is empowering.
My day might not be going as planned. I probably won't get to everything on my to-do list. And I don't know what else this fire will consume. But with this broader perspective in mind, I am reminded that the most important thing I can still do is to keep showing-up in integrity with love and compassion in my heart. I have no control over what the East Troublesome Fire will do. But I can control how I respond.