In a California Camp Fire post-disaster interview with Shirley McDowall, a discussion about her destroyed, beloved community of Paradise City elicited an endless flow of tears.
McDowall was a little emotional while receiving love and care from Tzu Chi volunteers that same day. Hands on McDowall’s shoulders, Tzu Chi volunteer Huang Fang-Wen whispered a reminder: “Deep breathing.”
As an emotional guidance instructor, McDowall has experience assisting women who are emotionally distressed. Heeding the advice from Huang, McDowall took a deep breath and was able to recall much of her training. However, the pain of this loss still felt too overpowering to accept.
“I taught students how to calm down,” McDowall explained. “But three weeks after the disaster, I found those skills couldn’t help me.” The weight of all the grief and suffering was too much to bear, even for a highly competent emotional guidance instructor like McDowall.
Huang comforted her with the reminder that strength and wisdom can be found in pain. “If you can get over the pain, I believe you will be the greatest instructor in the future.”
McDowall’s 87-year-old and 90-year-old in-laws are also Camp Fire survivors. McDowall was worried that it would be difficult for them to return to their once beloved home only to see the house and every precious memory burnt down in ruins. “I know this is a good chance to learn, but it’s really difficult. I’m lost,” McDowall said. “This moment, I can still feel the pain.”
Thanks to the guidance and support of Tzu Chi volunteers, McDowall intends to internalize the disaster as a lesson that even pain has its own value. In the spirit of Tzu Chi compassion, McDowall plans to take care of her in-laws for their remaining years.