Home Is Where the Heart Is

Great Smoky Mountains

This past week has been brutal. The wildfires in the Gatlinburg area triggered that sense of helplessness and despair I so often find myself in. I grew up just outside Sevier County. I spent most of my childhood and teens frequenting the many tourist attractions of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Smoky Mountains. So many of my happiest memories are attached to one place or another there as is the case for most of us who grew up in East Tennessee. I worked 2 seasons at Dollywood after graduating high school and again briefly in ’98 — my favorite job of the many I’ve held. I have a strong attachment to that area.

It’s home.

My heart and soul belong to the Smoky Mountains. As a child, I spent many a summer day swinging on my front porch in the foothills of the Smokies, gazing at those beloved mountains off in the distance. That’s where I learned to meditate, though I had no name for this practice back then. The Smoky Mountains taught me to simply “be” and savor my natural surroundings. It may sound silly to those who have never experienced the “spirit” of a place, but those mountains are truly alive. Still to this day, they take my breath away and fill me with peace whenever I return to them, like a mother nurturing her child.

That’s why these wildfires hurt so much. I’ve cried more tears this week — unstoppable, heartbroken tears as I watched a fiery inferno threaten all that I hold dear. “It could have been much worse.” I keep telling myself that, but it does little to assuage the devastation I feel. The only thing that has helped my sadness at all is seeing communities come together all over the state raising money and donations to help with relief efforts. These acts of kindness restore at least some small measure of faith in humanity to do the “right” thing.

As of writing this:

  • The death toll is at 13 people.
  • 15,653 acres were affected by the fires.
  • “1,000 structures were either damaged or destroyed by the fires.”
  • “4,871 people remain without power in Sevier County” as of 8:15 pm last night.

[Source: “Fire death count remains at 13; searches winding down.” WBIR, 2016. 02 Dec. 2016.]

I can’t even imagine the devastation to the wildlife population without immediately falling into a panic and more tears.

The Sevier County community relies on the tourism industry. These fires could have devastating consequences for many people in that area, especially those who lost their homes. At this time, monetary donations would go farther than anything else. Please, consider giving what you can: American Red Cross.

A Tragic Loss

An acquaintance/friend of ours died by suicide on July 29th. I was shocked to hear this when KR told me about it. He was, too. While I had only spoken with this friend a couple of times, briefly, I admired his animated, lively way of speaking and telling stories. I love a good storyteller. He was a good guy with a big heart. KR worked with him up until the middle of May when the friend “pointed out.” For anyone not familiar with the “point system,” a lot of factories in this area use points to discourage tardiness, absenteeism, and other work-related mistakes. If employees get too many points, they’re fired.

This friend was struggling. His marriage ended, and he was left without a home for a while. He stayed with some mutual friends of ours before finding another place to live. Then, he lost his job. Why can’t employers take into consideration major life changes like a divorce? Divorce is a huge stressor. Being homeless is a huge stressor. Losing a job is a huge stressor. I can understand his despair and hopelessness because I’ve been there.

His family didn’t even have a funeral for him — no wake, no memorial service, nothing. A few of us who knew him got together this past Saturday to memorialize his passing. As I listened to the stories everyone shared about him, I wondered what went through his mind before he made that fateful decision. No one will ever know. I can imagine because I’ve been there so many times, but I can’t know. 

It’s a tragic loss when anyone dies by suicide. I feel sad for our friend. I feel sad that he couldn’t reach out to anyone for help. I feel sad that no one recognized his pain. I feel sad that he died so alone in that way. His death is another tragic reminder to me that depression can be fatal. I wouldn’t wish this dis-ease on anyone. As for me, I’m coping with the trigger in the best ways I know how. I chose to draw this friend’s portrait today while wishing his soul my best on its journey. I can only hope he found the peace he was searching for.

If you are feeling suicidal, please, call: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). What you are experiencing, what you are feeling does not have to be fatal. Please, seek help. I know, easier said than done. If you find that you cannot call, wait it out, just wait it out.