San Diego Firestorms

    Normality, like it often does, served as a harbinger for catastrophe. Sunny blue skies finally appeared last week, after what seemed like years of ambiguous, overcast weather. It was a welcome relief from the shades of gray, and it seemed as if old friends were reconciled again. San Diego and gorgeous weather are supposed to be betrothed to each other. So in a sense, at least weather-wise, everything was back to normal. Shuttles run, people go to work and school, joggers relish the return of the morning sun. The only disruption is from the strikers in front of the grocery store, who do some harassing when you just want to buy your salsa. For the most part, though, everything was pretty normal. Herein lies the setting for sudden fear, confusion and disorder.

    Shawn No/Guardian

    The massive fires that swept through San Diego County caught most of us off-guard. I looked out the window on the morning of Oct. 26 and grumbled about what I thought was a return of the somber weather. I wish it were only that. As we all figured out at one point or another, it was a firestorm that would devour hundreds of thousands of acres and scar many more lives. If it cut deep into the consciousness of San Diego, then, how did it affect us UCSD students?

    First, I must admit to an intense cynicism. I also tend to be oversensitive about certain issues, including appropriate reactions to devastation and tragedy. That being said, the insensitivity I encountered regarding the fires is probably more than a little tainted by my own jadedness. As students who aren’t readily in the path of danger, I guess it’s a bit unreasonable to expect an outpouring of grief or empathy. However, sometimes it seemed like everyone was only worried about school. From what I read or heard from some people, that was the only thing in their minds. Having school cancelled for three days speaks for itself; the magnitude of the event must be pretty substantial. Students would surely meet the long break in classes with either enthusiasm or confusion, but for some people, it seemed like all they cared about were their midterms. OK, I know we are college students and exams are supposed to be our life, but people are dying and you’re worried about the time of your midterm? I understand your role as a student, but please, everything will work itself out. It just seemed inappropriate in the scope of things.

    I admittedly was relieved when I heard we wouldn’t have school, although I became antsy when I learned Oct. 29 classes were cancelled. It’s perfectly reasonable for students to be glad of having no school. In fact, I’m sure some of us felt like it was a needed vacation. However, the vacation came at a huge expense. I couldn’t help but feel guilty that the firemen were working some 20 hours a day while we were getting a three-day break from school and celebrating. It’s a strange situation, really, because I can’t blame anyone for rejoicing over a break from school, but neither can I condone the fact that we did.

    It also seemed like a lot of people were more worried about the ash on their cars, dust in their hair, difficulty breathing and whatnot than about the fire itself. The fires were an inconvenience, an annoyance, and nothing more.

    It may be pretty unfair to hold college students accountable for their somewhat selfish thoughts about the disaster. And to expect anything more is also equally unreasonable. What can you expect from 20-year-olds who do little but study, drink and hang out all day? Sympathy? Empathy? It takes something deeply personal to affect the constant flow of life.

    Of course, it’s not as if everyone is supposed to share in the agony of the fires. Indeed, many probably wanted to get their mind off of the disaster. On the up side, it was encouraging to hear that the Red Cross centers were overflowing with volunteers and even had to turn some away. Also, last week’s Associated Students collections drive was another proactive way to help the seemingly helpless situation.

    The school, in a typically bureaucratic manner, issued the same statements everyday citing the reasons for closing the campus. You always hear of “”deepest sympathies”” and “”cause for concern”” and such, but does it register in your mind as sincere?

    School started up again on Oct. 30. Midterms were moved, and some material will have to be cut from courses. But all in all, that’s nothing. It’s a trivial, simplistic matter compared to the complex, arduous and saddening task ahead for so many others who have lost their homes or loved ones. Ashes on the windshield wipers that were once support beams in someone’s home are to be whisked away by an annoyed driver. It’s just a fact of life that true empathy is not possible, especially at the collegiate level. Come finals week, it will all be just another memory of a time when it was dark around noon and we had a few days off from school. Everything will be back to normal. Shouldn’t that be our deepest fear?

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