The smallest things that have the deepest impact. Like how what brought me to tears in the wake of the Camp Fire was the easy strength of a stranger.
I had brought my boots in for repair. The balding cobbler walked me through what needed to be done. “It could take longer than usual,” he said with an accent I couldn’t place. “I haven’t been able to open the windows and work with the glue.” He nodded toward the toxic fog blanketing Chico.
“No problem. I hear we’re getting rain Wednesday.”
“Bless the Lord,” he said.
We talked longer about the disaster, the evacuee camp across the street and the outpouring of support from the community. He asked what I did and I told him. “Good,” he said. “You are good.” He apologized again. “I will start today, but Thanksgiving I go be with my family.”
“Of course,” I said.
“Of course,” he echoed. Then, almost as an afterthought, he said, “We lost our house in Paradise. We lost everything.”
A bolt of sadness caught me by surprise and I hiccuped. “Oh, my god. Where are you staying?”
“For a few days we stayed with my son in Davis. But now we’re here, in the shop.”
We both looked around the cramped space.
“Anything you need?”
“No, no.” He waved off my question. “We are blessed. We have the shop. We could be over there,” he said, nodding toward the encampment. “The evacuation,” he said, still looking past me, “was … just terrible.”
Neither of us said anything for a second.
“Next week. I have your boots.”
“I’ve worked on this type of boot,” he said, performing cheer. “I shine them, too. They are nice boots.”
“If you need anything—” I started, but he shooed the gesture.
“Next week. Like new.”
The bell jingled as I pushed the door to leave.
In my car, I faced the tent city across the street. I hiccuped again. This time I couldn’t hold back the tears. My vision blurred, exacerbating the haze just beyond the windshield, and I reflected on the resilience of humans and how those suffering most always seem to stabilize the masses. For that, I am so very thankful.