With its beautiful palms, its lovely bay and the careless Pacific, San Diego, California is the town that stole my heart:
I have read poetry in Los Angeles, have been to Palm Springs, to Irvine, Laguna Beech and other lovely places in California, but it was the closeness of the ocean or the wild tropical flowers or something about San Diego that reminded me of where I grew up in Liberia. Last year I had the privilege of visiting San Diego, California to read poetry and give lectures as a guest of Point Loma Nazarene University, a beautiful Christian college at the edge of the Pacific and the cliffs of Point Loma in San Diego. Today, San Diego, the beautiful town that stole my heart is in flames. This is a place where long after I was there, I continue to be connected not just to the place, but also to the beautiful people at Point Loma. In my College Writing Class at Penn State Altoona, my seminar class studying “War and Survival,” and I tried to make sense of the wild fires eating up the land and all of the beautiful cities in Southern California today.
I began to reflect on my own experience of losing, of letting go of everything, and how reluctant one can be and how painful that can be. I always fall back on my Christian faith whenever life presents its challenges to me, and back to the passages in the Psalm that are usually my point of focus as I seek for healing.
I had just watched the news with my husband after work. The memory of the beautiful palms and the beautiful people I met at Point Loma Nazarene came back like fresh herbs. These people who are now threatened by the ugly flames include folks like Carol and her family, Rachel, the Administrative Assistant and Edie, the efficient, inspiring staff who along with Rachel took such good care of me, Fru Ndeh, my African professor friend/brother, Bettina Pettersen, Professor of English, and many other wonderful faculty and students.
The powerful Psalm that I often turn to when I cannot make sense of my own troubles came to me while I was responding to a note from my friend, Carol Blessing, Professor of English at PLNU. “The Lord is our refuge, a very present help in the day of trouble. Therefore, will we not fear, though the earth be removed and the mountains tumble into the sea… there is a river which makes glad the city of God…”
One section of that Psalm that I held on to when I was also packing to run, when all that we owned could not be cramped into our family luggage as we fled the fighting in Monrovia were the verses.. “The Lord shall guide thy going out and thy coming in…” When even the memories we cherish seem to be too much to pack up in that forced evacuation, these words alone are enough for that moment and forever.
But you may say that it is easier said than done, especially, when the flames and smoke you find yourself engulfed in are so overpowering you cannot breathe. And yet, I know that in it all, there is something to take courage in, courage because the God who is our refuge is unlike the wild bushes that can be burnt up or the home that may be lost, sufficient, I say even if just for the moment. Ane yet I’ll say, I’ve been there, and have tried God, and have found him able.
Other than my at PLNU friends, I have other friends like Mike and Pat B who live in Irving and my friend Adela and many others. Today I thought someone should stop the clocks so the fires can be brought to an end. Someone should.
At Point Loma
By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
At Point Loma, a student may dip a toe or two in
the ocean, in between classrooms and teachers, in
between falling in and out of love, between the pages
of a book’s silence. On a fast day, the windy air, misty,
salty, so much beauty for the eyes, and I’d say, what a life!
In my small, Pennsylvania town, old railroad tracks
still wind their way around Altoona, old steel country,
rusting away from lack of use, the green mountains,
rising like clumps of dirt mounds. Altoona, where
some will never understand how a student can learn
anything sitting on a beach. But in San Diego, the
hotel suite, where my kind hosts have lavished this
undeserving luxury upon me, a suite that hangs over
the bay, the lovely balcony frightens me though.
What if I slip and fall into this old bay where a man
rises out of his boat at dawn as if he were a fish.
His wheelbarrow, squeaking with things he is hauling
on to his boat on the bay. There are so many boats,
the water has no air to breathe; the air has no water
to drink. There is so much in this life to live for,
and yet my boat neighbors have chosen to live on
the water, not on the shoreline, on the sand, or on
the bare cliffs where Point Loma University, so
blessed, sits along the peaceful shoreline as if waiting
for God. This is the sort of place that follows
the traveler around forever, like the old stories Iyeeh
told me in Dolokeh. I am not one to fall in love
with a place so easily, but somehow, I cannot help
smiling at these palms, these foliage, these people,
and this wind that takes me way back home where
these shrubberies also grow wild in Monrovia.
I wonder what was on God’s mind, San Diego, when
he made you? This sort of place makes my soul cry
for that other shoreline so far away, where home sits
by the sea, waiting, too, where the ocean is wild and hot.
This is Carol Blessing, Professor of English at PLNU and me posing after my final poetry reading on Nov. 2, 2006.
I had just sat down to write a post for California when a note, the third today came from my friend, Carol Blessing at PLNU. The words were so moving and so powerful, I sat down for a moment to sob. Her words brought the weight of her pain and the pain of now a million evacuated to me. I was also reminded of my own life and my own past, especially, when she said in those powerful lines only a lover of both literature and God could have written: “our dog is confused.”
Here are a few of Carol’s powerful words, powerful because they are more than what we will hear on the national news. They have the presence of a human heart in every word. They bring us to the fire and the flames:
LEST WE FORGET AND REMOVE OURSELVES FROM THIS.. IT IS REAL
While waiting, my friend Carol writes____
“…We are here in San Diego county, the land of wildfires, four years almost to the day from the severe fires we had had in 2003. These are worse. We are surrounded on three sides by areas that have been evacuated, although the authorities are cautiously letting some of the evacuees back in to the north. Our bags are packed and near the front door, and we have tried to decide what precious things to take. Daniel’s baby album and our wedding album were the first choices, along with yearbooks, some 18th century books, jewelry, and my research notes and photocopies of manuscripts that were the results of three working visits to England. A house full of memories from our lives and past generations is hard to condense into a few boxes. Our skies are so smoky that we run the air conditioner and air cleaner to try to breathe inside, although the headaches we have had since the fires started Sunday show that the air is still polluted.
Our dog is confused. The first smoky night, she wouldn’t go outside by herself, paces most of the night. George has tried to sleep in the downstairs recliner, in front of the television, and she tries to stand on his head. Now she sleeps most of the time, unable to go for walks, and having to fight the primal instinct to run away from fire and smoke.
We finally turned off the news. Trying to keep up with what is going on and see if we are going to be evacuated has taken its toll, as our stress levels are beyond 10. While the local news channels broadcast reports from the mayor, governor, or fire chief, they also feel compelled to simultaneously run non-stop footage of the most visually horrific images of hills and houses burning…” Carol.