As part of my internship experience with ICTG, I had the opportunity to learn about some of the long-term impacts of the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow on the Westmont community. My own experiences during the disasters constituted the heart behind this project. During my first year, when I was new to the Santa Barbara and Montecito communities, the disasters created an opportunity for me to engage in the community and meet my neighbors in ways I never could have imagined. As I dug out a family’s home alongside one of the family members and with fellow Westmont students, my ideas about communities, trauma, and service began to be radically transformed. This project created an opportunity for me to reflect upon and articulate those thoughts and ideas in an organized and systematic manner. Moreover, this project gave me the space to ask new questions that came up for me during the internship, such as: How do you decide who gets to participate in the narrative making following a disaster? How much narrative space do individuals get to take up? Do some individuals get more than others? What position does Westmont in general, and do Westmont students in particular, get to occupy in the narrative following the disasters? What parts of the narrative can they claim?
How do you decide who gets to participate in the narrative making following a disaster? How much narrative space do individuals get to take up?
Throughout the interviews, individuals consistently reminded me of the diversity of feelings, emotions, and experiences that people have following disasters. Almost every person I interviewed mentioned the importance of recognizing and respecting this diversity. A comment from a student who was not present during the disasters made me think about the challenges that this diversity in experience can create for our understanding of what happened. In an effort to grasp what happened, the student attended and participated in memorial events. Though she learned more about the disasters and some community members’ experience she remarked that she “will never fully understand what happened.”
As I reflected on this comment, I realized that no person can fully understand what happened because no person can fully understand the experience of another. The only thing we can fully understand is our own experience in the disaster. However just because we can’t fully understand doesn’t mean we give up and settle for our own perspective. Instead, we hold the knowledge that we will never fully understand in tension with the effort to understand other’s experiences and feelings. We still participate in practices of collective remembrance. We still listen to others stories and recollections. We still share our own experiences of what happened. We remind ourselves that no story is the whole story; no person’s journey is everyone’s journey. We even begin to piece together what we have experienced with what others have experienced, attempting to create a more complete image of what happened.
We still participate in practices of collective remembrance. We still listen to others stories and recollections. We still share our own experiences of what happened.
This crafting together won’t ever yield a complete understanding of the disasters. Nonetheless, we strive to craft together our perspectives, respecting that each person has a valuable voice and worthy position in the narrative making, though exactly how that voice sounds or exactly how much space that voice takes up will look different from person to person. We continue to seek greater understanding of others and their experiences. In doing so, we affirm the uniqueness and worthiness of each person. Following the destruction of disaster, we get the opportunity to create something new with ourselves, our families, and our communities by sharing our stories, listening to the stories of others, and together creating a narrative that honors each person and each experience. In other words, we get to practice loving our neighbors.
Did you know you can give a financial gift to help support ICTG's unique learning-serving internships? ICTG interns receive one-on-one coaching and complete projects related to their community leadership interests. Help support our internship program and donate today!
Chloe is currently a fourth year student at Westmont College, earning a B.S. in Psychology-Behavioral Neuroscience. She enjoys learning about how resilience and connectedness impact experiences of trauma. Chloe brings her experiences living in Costa Rica and Scotland and studying abroad in Israel-Palestine to her studies and work.
From 2012-2020, this blog space explored the changing landscape of long-term care.