RAMON PRESSON: Bullets and wildfires from the perspective of a witness PART 2

RAMON PRESSON: Bullets and wildfires from the perspective of a witness PART 2

After graduating from Christ Presbyterian Academy in 2014, Annie Carpenter enrolled at Pepperdine University on the California coast directly west of Los Angeles.

Annie graduated from Pepperdine in May this year with a degree in Psychology and Multimedia Design and currently lives in Redondo Beach, California, about 30 miles
south of Pepperdine.

In Part 1 of our interview (link here) Annie shared her personal reactions to the November 7 mass shooting at Borderline, a bar and grill popular with Pepperdine
students. The gunman killed 12 people and wounded others before turning the gun on himself.

In Part 2 of this interview Annie shares her reactions to the deadly wildfire that began sweeping the region within mere days of the shooting. By November 12, it was
confirmed that this the deadliest fire in California history.

bullets and wildfires
Annie Carpenter

In a crisis stacked upon crisis, within just a few days of the shooting the same region is being devastated by wildfires. How close are the fires to the Pepperdine campus and adjoining community? 

Late on November 9th, the fires approached the campus. The university’s administration is prepared for this type of fire. It is said that Pepperdine is the safest place to be in a fire of this magnitude because the campus is mapped out in such a way that the buildings are much less susceptible to being struck by a spreading fire.

Pepperdine urged students to stay on campus if they could because the Pacific Coast Highway was gridlocked (the only way in and out of Malibu is Pacific Coast Highway, as the canyons were already ablaze). I have pictures of my friends huddled in the library wearing masks to prevent dangerous smoke inhalation and other photos of students in the cafeteria with embers burning in the distance through the windows behind them.

I’ve heard that Malibu looks like a war zone. Nothing is left but destruction. One of the most beautiful places on earth looks like a blowtorch was taken to it. I got confirmation that one of the places I lived off campus was destroyed. In fact, most of the off-campus apartment complexes our students live in have been destroyed. None of Pepperdine’s buildings, however, have been damaged. All structures and students are safe.

I can’t comprehend my close community having to respond to even one of these horrific events (either the mass shooting or the wildfire).  I don’t think any of us can comprehend experiencing both, and in the same week no less!

What is it like for you to witness this dual threat and tragedy happening to place that has been home for you?  How do you think students and residents are coping?

This is not the first time something utterly traumatic has occurred to our Pepperdine community. When I was studying abroad, a group of my friends were a block over from the Paris attack. Many of our students were in Las Vegas last year at the concert. It’s devastating because this sort of attack seems to be the norm now.
I feel like I am peering into this situation from a sliding glass door that just won’t work correctly. It can slide open and I can walk through it, but at the same time, it’s jammed and won’t open. I want to smash through the glass door, but that doesn’t do any good for my house, me, or the community I want to enter. I am separated by a thin divider that keeps me from entering back into the community.

As of Sunday, November 11, students were urged to go home until Thanksgiving. Fires are a risk again due to high winds and the smoke is harmful.

It is time to rest and rebuild. They need time and space to cope.

Annie, is it too early to tell what impact this is having on you emotionally, spiritually, and even politically?

Emotionally, I haven’t pinpointed how I’m feeling. My emotions tend to rotate in a cyclical motion. Sometimes I want to talk, other times I don’t. Sometimes I want to
scream into the void out of frustration and other times I want to sit quietly and think. It’s a whirlwind, but that’s just how I’m processing it.

Spiritually, I am stirring for change. I’m not quite attuned to how that looks yet.

Sometimes, change from within your own soul can muster the courage to change your surroundings. However, that takes insane discomfort mixed with vulnerability. As my personal hero and favorite author, Brené Brown, puts it, vulnerability takes courage. It takes about eight seconds of discomfort to muster that courage. Everyone has eight seconds in his or her day.

Politically, this has had a monumental effect on how I view our leaders. Without sounding too politically charged, it is the time to change. Yes, people have rights to own
dangerous weaponry, but it is what people have decided to do with these machines that makes it so devastating. It makes me sick to think that someone could make such a
choice with something they are legally (or illegally, but more than likely legally) allowed to own. I have watched too many news stories of innocent people losing their lives to senseless violence. 312 days into 2018 and there have been 307 mass shootings with multiple lives lost. What does that tell us? Something has to change!

Annie, thank you for permitting me to ask you these questions and I appreciate your thoughtful responses. In closing, what is a question you wish I or others would ask?

Simply put: “What can I do?”

This question is so open-ended. It invites others to help in a way they feel comfortable helping and places the ball in their court. At the end of the day, that’s all everyone
needs – a way to vent, a way to engage, a way to assist. Not everyone has the means to change the way America looks at wildfires or gun violence, but they do have the means to help their neighbor. Everyone hears what’s going on all around them; it just takes a choice to learn how to listen.

bullets and wildfiresRamon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Franklin (www.ramonpressontherapy.com) and the author of several books. Reach him at ramonpresson@gmail.com. To read Presson’s previous columns go to www.franklinhomepage.com/?s=ramon+presson

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