Pic courtesy of visitsantarosa.com
There’s an old Irish dirge, The Town I Loved So Well, sung by a number of Irish singers, but the version I like the most is sung by The Irish Tenors. I first heard this song while listening to an old Mary McGonigle LP. A recording I cannot find now. This song and Only Our Rivers Run Free from her albums took abode in my semi-Irish soul. And in March, I revel in these plaintive tunes. Phil Coulter wrote this song about his hometown of Derry in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland when it was rife with battle, bloodshed and bigotry.
As a life-long Russian River rat, it is understandable why Only Our Rivers Run Free would capture my heart, but I love The Town I Loved So Well because it reminds me of the few years of my childhood spent in Santa Rosa, California. I may have indeed left my heart in San Francisco where I was born, but Santa Rosa is the town I have loved so well because there, my soul was born. All the things I have come to love, I found when living in Santa Rosa. All what I imagine a good childhood to be, Santa Rosa is the backdrop, the canvass, if you will. I don’t remember the bad times, I am sure there were some. I only remember the happy times, the beauty, the simplicity of a time when being was joyful, innocent and safe.
About two weeks ago, the town I loved so well experienced a disaster on a grand scale. A fire – no, a firestorm – ravaged her neighborhoods, terrorized her citizens , destroyed her homes and sadly, took many of her lives. Those lives, of course, are her greatest losses. Today the fires still burn. My heart goes out to the families of the dozens who died. My heart goes out to the hundreds who have lost everything, but their lives. My heart goes out to the folks who have been working NON-STOP since October 9th, even in the midst of their own losses. My heart goes out to the town I loved so well.
On October 1, 1969, at around 10:00 pm, most were tucked into bed, I remember I was. I was just about to fall asleep when what seemed like someone picking up our house on Alvarado Avenue, shaking it like an Etch-It-Sketch and setting it back down caused me to fly out of my bed, terrorized. “It’s an earthquake,” my father shouted as he ran down the hall. Afterwards, the whole neighborhood gathered into the middle of our little block that was my whole world. We suffered a significant disaster, but we were not alone.
I hope Santa Rosa knows she is not alone during this catastrophe. I hope she knows that anyone who lived there for any amount of time mourns with her, prays for her, worries for her. Pascal Mercier in Night Train to Lisbon wrote: We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” I know I speak for myself, but I hope Santa Rosa knows part of me has always stayed there, and I empathize with her suffering.
Just like after the earthquake, Santa Rosa will rebuild. It will be a long time before any normalcy returns, actually, life will never be like it was on October 8, 2017 in Santa Rosa. It will be different. I pray for Santa Rosa, as well as Napa, Lake County, and the other areas affected by these fires. I pray for my friend’s niece and her family who were airlifted off Atlas Peak leaving behind all her physical possessions. I pray for the families of the dead, their loss is irreplaceable, their grief unimaginable and, all I can say, you are not alone. Unfortunately, no amount of rebuilding will restore what you have lost.
I pray for those who lost everything but their lives. I pray for your children who have lost their precious things, their keepsakes, their comforts, their beds, all the things that made them feel safe. They have lost their worlds. I hope you know, you are not alone.
I pray for those who have been working non-stop trying to stop these monsters. Please know, as hundreds have said, written and shared, that your work is appreciated, your help invaluable, your fortitude comforting and your energy inexhaustible. I pray that you get rest, peace and comfort as well. All of us who do not live there now, but love Santa Rosa and her people, want you to know you are not alone.
Now the music’s gone but they carry on
For their spirit’s been bruised, never broken
They will not forget but their hearts are set
on tomorrow and peace once again
For what’s done is done and what’s won is won
and what’s lost is lost and gone forever
I can only pray for a bright, brand new day
in the town I loved so well.
Lyrics by Phil Coulter