My mother lived only 2 days into her 54th year, and the end of her life was a case study of how we sometimes ramp up, into expensive and invasive treatment and activity, just when some softening and easing would be perfect. “We’ll fight this and beat this” has its place, but the push and urgency and violence of medical interventions that might make sense if the patient could recover seem a cruel setup when “winning” isn’t likely. Framing death as losing isn’t the nicest trip to lay on someone who should be settling her business and getting ready to leave the planet in peace.

Of course in retrospect it’s clearer—I put my finger on June 11, 1989 and each square I step back seems a needless frenzy now. But in her last week I asked several times whether she was dying, meekly and cautiously I’m sure, but I did ask, and the hospital chaplain was the only one who agreed it was worth discussing. Of course no matter what we did, there would be no escaping the grief and pain in the years since then, but I can’t help wonder if giving her a proper goodbye wouldn’t have eased some of it, a tiny bit.

It’s a strange time in Northern California right now, with so many wildfires. The frenzy and fighting the fires is absolutely appropriate. Despite their exhaustion, this isn’t the time for firefighters to wind down. But their work continues as some have been spared the fire, or lost their homes or loved ones to it. So we’re all over the place: in mourning, in the fight, and everywhere in between. In the East Bay we’re at a strange distance, far enough that right now we’re “safe” (only very minor fires right here so far, though the threat of fires is real), but also smelling and breathing in the burned trees and homes and lives of our friends to the north. Some school districts have been closed, but in Berkeley schools are open, though the kids have to stay inside. Normal life continues, sort of. The stores are sold out of face masks and we’ve got sore throats from the unhealthy air all week, but at the same time we’re the lucky ones, being spared the fires. And while Beijing has similar air quality to Berkeley this week, they’re stuck with that as a horrifying normal, while we wait anxiously for it to pass.

Of course in the big picture, we’re all in this together, on this planet. We can feel separate from China, but what happens to the earth affects us all. I take the most heart from my friends serving food in Santa Rosa and collecting clothes and necessities. Taking necessary action, moving forward one step at a time.

Here at the house we’re in the middle of rebuilding a dangerously leaning retaining wall along our sidewalk. By rebuilding of course I mean paying to rebuild, it’s Augustin and his guys who are tearing apart, stone by stone, the old wall, digging out the hill, and making a steel-reinforced cement footer that holds the same rocks in a gorgeous new configuration, built up new and straight. The shame of “build that wall” makes the words harder to find, but taking care of our infrastructure, fixing what needs mending, rebuilding what’s broken feels like a very good place to put our energy. Or it will be, when the smoke clears. Thankfully the guys took the last couple days off to spare their lungs.

Be safe everyone.