Updated December 29, 2016; originally posted December 9, 2016.
I have started writing at 11:25 pm. About this time one week ago, a fire started in a warehouse two miles from my home. Thirty six people died.
I visited the Ghost Ship Fire memorials in the Fruitvale District a few times this week. Even though I brought my camera, I felt more like a community member trying to make sense of the tragedy. For this post, I created a photo gallery. I also categorized the post in the journalism section, although I wonder if there is a better category.
I have photographed death and dying. This felt too close and too big.
Local, regional and national news organizations covered this story. In Oakland, the Ghost Ship Fire will remain an important story for many years.
I wonder how the young people will remember the fire. Will the young people become afraid to act or emboldened? Will the community leaders remember the children when creating new policies?
How will the first responders carry their memories? Will those who saw the worst of the fire receive help?
I am especially concerned about the families who lost someone. The families might ask unanswerable questions about their loss. Meanwhile, the larger community might turn to the families with our own questions.
On the first day, I left a paintbrush. On the second day, I left my plastic fork from a “fork in the road” series. (Another artists gave me the yellow paint.) It feels that our community, and perhaps our country, has reached a fork.
What are our priorities? Not what we say, but where do we spend our time and resources?
Added December 29, 2016
Since publishing the original story, I visited the Ghost Fire site two more times. I visited on Tuesday, December 13th and again today. Photos have been added to the slideshow.
The tragedy still does not feel real. When I visit the site, I am usually unable to access most emotions unless I am downwind from the building. The smell reminds me of an old house that burned near my childhood home in Fresno. I remember my mother’s fear as we drove back to our neighborhood. Whenever I smell a burned building, it triggers that childhood memory.
Many of us carried emotional memories to the memorials; we also left with emotional memories.
I suspect that many people left something at the memorials to ease the burden of those families who were affected more profoundly by the Ghost Fire. It was an unorganized attempt at creating community… everyone doing their part.
Organizations from across the country visited Oakland this month. Billy Graham’s Rapid Response Team drove from Charlotte, North Carolina. I enjoyed my conversation with the chaplains. I shared a story about my grandmother who wasn’t sure about God, but believed in Billy Graham.
If there is silver lining to the Ghost Fire, it is a reminder that humans care about each other. Even in a divided country, people care about people they do not know and might not understand. It’s a start… a painful, difficult start.