The dying sun is described so vividly in The Magician’s Nephew, one of the books in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. After Digory Kirke grabs Polly Plummer’s arm in order to ring the golden bell and wake Jadis, the world of Charn comes to an end. In the final book, Lewis describes the death of another world, and a much older Polly and Digory, who are present, recognize the end of that world by its dying sun.
I am reminded of both worlds these past few days when viewing our sun through the dense filter of smoke, which surrounds us in late summer as the fog envelops us in the cold months. With the chaos of evacuations, news footage of what the fires have left behind, and maps of more and more fires burning through the West, I can fully imagine the end of the world.
Fires are close to Portland today, and have affected Los Angeles since last weekend. If it’s not fire, it’s flood as Hurricane Harvey made its way through the Gulf Coast and, as I type, Irma is heading straight for the Florida Keys. With hurricanes come tornadoes as well as winds and surging water. With evacuations and rescues, there are so many people forced to leave their homes not knowing what will happen while they’re gone.
A few years ago I was running errands one morning and saw the California hillside a few miles north engulfed in flames. Three careless campers were responsible, and they probably had no idea the lives they changed that day. Friends of ours lived in the area and were told to prepare for evacuation. One of them later described the stab of reality when you’re faced with true danger and wonder what you need to grab.
There are a select few who say, “They’re just things,” and how fortunate for them to live so simply or perhaps foolishly, but what does one take? Photos? Not everyone has scanned every photo into a digital file, but surely you’d grab the computer. I couldn’t bear to lose my life’s work, so the laptop is a must. European refugees and civilians in the Civil War were known to bury valuables, many of which were never seen again, but you can’t bury things in a flood, and the water is not a looting soldier.
So many important papers are saved electronically these days, but birth certificates, insurance policies, passports, bank information, and other ways to prove one’s identity must be taken along. You can get clothes later, but evacuation is all about priorities and, of course, where to go next, what will be there to eat, and is there going to be fresh drinking water?
As those around us head to shelters and spend frustrating hours awaiting official updates with only the clothes on their backs, I’m reminded of the millions all over the planet who have been forced to abandon their homes due to war, climate, and terror. Whether by nature or by governments, people are on the move at rates not seen since the end of World War II.
Eventually the winds will shift, the fires will burn out, flood waters will recede and, at some point, war zones will be occupied only by a few stubborn people who wish to stay and declare victory over a pile of rubble. Depending on the circumstances, some people may return in a few hours while others will never go home again. In either case, I am moved by the joy that washes over them when a door is opened and they are welcomed.
© 2017 by Patrick Brown
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