Seven weeks after a tidal wave of mud swallowed the tiny community of Hazel, Washington, and blocked a mile long stretch of the major artery Highway 530 from east to west, thereby isolating the small town of Darrington, thousands of tons of mud and debris are slowly being moved off that stretch of highway.
With each scoop of mud and debris those excavators are removing dreams and hopes; years of work and, unfortunately, some of the beliefs that I have held dear. There is a part of me that wants to lie on the floor and kick and scream that ‘it’s not fair!’ After all that has been lost, must I lose my belief in those organizations that have always brought a swelling of pride to my heart, and a feeling of safety…yes, safety in knowing they stood in the wings, ready to aid in event of disaster?
Compared to the horrendous losses of others, I hate to even mention such a minor loss as ‘faith in an organization’, but I will in hopes that others will not be so suddenly hurt by it.
Red Cross had been a symbol of competent help for so many years…to me. In our community, the Red Cross received $30,000 in gas cards to aid commuters who now had added 85 miles one way to their travel time to jobs. Red Cross refused the assistance of our long standing (20years) director of Family Resource Center in handing out what could have been a real boon for our residents. Instead, the Red Cross worker gave out $300 per family of gas cards without asking whether the person lived in Darrington, had a valid driver’s license, owned a car or even commuted the extra 85 miles one way.
Drug addicts arrived from as far away as Sedro Woolley and Concrete, to receive $300 of gas cards to trade for black tar heroin. Alcoholics rode bicycles to receive those cards and cash them in for alcohol.
Shell Corporation meant to help the citizens of Darrington. We thank them, but please, Shell, from now on..give the gas cards to United Way, or to the locals who have been working in the community all along and know who will actually use the gift as intended.
Though my faith in Red Cross was completely lost, I FOUND a wonderful new faith in the youth of this coming generation. As the Darrington Volunteer Registrar I have had the pleasure of recording 2589 hours given to the community by high school and middle school young people. These young people unloaded trucks, stacked donations on shelves, swept floors, made sandwiches, delivered groceries to home bound folks, cooked meals, cleaned flooded houses, cleaned houses for displaced families, cared for displaced animals and did whatever task was asked of them with a good spirit and willing hands.
And while I’m talking about animals, I want to acknowledge the Darrington Horse Owner’s Association who cared for displaced horses, solicited and received donations of animal food and distributed those donations.
I discovered so many good people, people I might never have taken the time to speak with had they not been part of the disaster efforts here in Darrington. As a married lesbian woman, I am well aware of the attitude of certain religions towards my sexual orientation. The Southern Baptists are not known for their tolerance of my sexual orientation, nor for their respect for lesbian marriages/relationships.
As it happened, the Southern Baptists have a trailer they dispatch to areas hit by disasters. This trailer is a complete kitchen to help cook and feed those in the affected area. Retired Fire Chaplain Chuck Massena headed the group that arrived in Darrington and took over cooking for the volunteers and the community for a couple of weeks. I had the opportunity to speak with this delightful gentleman. My wife and I enjoyed eating a wonderful dinner with him and chatting. Of course, being an educator, I made sure that Chuck realized that I am a married lesbian and practicing pagan. If all Southern Baptists could be as accepting as Chuck how much greater would be the peace in our world. It was only a minor miracle, I admit, this thing of a lesbian pagan couple peacefully breaking bread with a Southern Baptist retired fire chaplain, but I’ll take any size miracle.
There were other uplifting discoveries I made during this time of sorrow that I want to share:
I realized how humbling it was to watch the mayor of this small town, as he spoke of the people we lost, choke up and have to stop talking as tears stood in his eyes. It was equally humbling to watch how supportive the men–big, burly loggers, truck drivers, fishermen–and the women were as we waited respectfully for Mayor Dan Rankin to continue speaking. Every night, night after night, at community meetings, Mayor Rankin took time to read the names of those we’d lost.
There are others, people who came from outside our community to stand with us, to help us, and yes, to cry with us. They are too many to name, but they know who they are. Some of them even re-discovered their connection to our town.
The second thing I want to share is the hugs I have given and the hugs I have received during this time of sorrow. I have sat in the community center and “felt” the town hugging each other. That is the best way I can explain it: it felt like all of us filling those bleachers had spread our arms wide and wrapped those arms around each other. I’d never known that a “town could hug”; it happened here in Darrington.
No, I haven’t suddenly become a card carrying, tree-cutting logger. I remain a tree-hugging, dirt-worshipping lesbian pagan, but today I am more than that. I am also a citizen of this small town called Darrington. I proudly claim kin as one of the “Darrington Do-ers”.
Belonging, that’s the real miracle. Meeting people I’ve lived by since 1996, yet never knew. Hugging and caring, being there with a kind word or a shoulder, reaching out a hand or giving a wave…we’ve shared these things, the people of Darrington and I. And, I am honored.
Darrington Do-ers. Darrington strong. Darrington proud.