Social But Not Emotional Distancing

By Gwyn Lurie   |   March 19, 2020

I was talking to a young friend on Friday. She grew up in Montecito and is in her sophomore year of college in Santa Barbara. We were commiserating about her school, and my daughters’ local schools, all coming to such an abruptly surreal halt when my friend looked at me and said, “Same thing happened my senior year of high school during the debris flow.” She smiled but I could see the angst in her eyes.

What the heck is going on?

It’s a good question. Indeed, it’s easy to look at our calamities of the last three years: the Thomas Fire, the debris flow, and coronavirus quarantine like a 1-2-3 punch that is testing our collective resolve and resilience.

But as tragic as these events have been, I personally am grateful for lessons learned and systems put in place that continue to pay dividends going forward. As recently as Monday, an email went around the Featherhill community in Romero Canyon about a localized mudflow. Literally within 10 minutes of that email, our awesome Fire Chief, Kevin Taylor, was assuring folks that resources were already being deployed, and former SB Fire Chief and TPRC head Pat McElroy was looped in and monitoring the situation as well.

So yes, our January 2018 debris flow was horrendous. But we made it a teachable moment and, as a result, have better emergency systems in place now than we had then. When our mountains start to liquefy, I am thankful for our debris nets, thankful for our top notch first responders, thankful to know there’s a Bucket Brigade, and thankful we have a new debris basin in the works for Randall Road.

Like everyone else, I dread our current pandemic. And my heart goes out to everyone suffering, especially those with a loved one who lost the battle. At the same time, I’m grateful it hasn’t been worse. Yes, it’s far worse than a normal flu, but corona’s mortality rate is less than 1.5% globally for those already suffering symptoms. Compare that to the early days of, say, AIDS when a diagnosis was tantamount to a death sentence.

This virus is causing hardship and great loss but think of the systems and protocols growing out of this pandemic that will benefit billions when an even more ferocious strain or biohazard confronts humanity in the future. Think of the 45 healthy citizens who’ve volunteered as guinea pigs for the coronavirus vaccine. Remember the positives.

As they say in Hamilton, “Legacy is planting seeds in a garden you will never see.”

Here in the 93108, we are already seeing our garden grow as we reuse systems now that we began to develop during the Thomas Fire. My family just used N95 air filter masks we first purchased for the Thomas Fire, as well as nitrile gloves purchased for when we finally got back into our ash covered house. All sorts of virtual community forums and bulletins sprouted out of 1/9. Attitudes changed as well. We’re closer with our neighbors once hidden behind giant hedges. We share information and resources readily with friends… and with strangers. I have an over-abundance of lemons that I trade with my neighbor who has a surfeit of freshly hatched eggs. I guess if God gives you lemons… make enough lemonade for yourself and for your neighbor.

Isn’t that the very foundational essence of community?

As the organization Facing History and Ourselves points out: “Any collection of people can be called a group. But not all groups can be called communities.” “Throughout (time), groups of people have formed communities to increase their chances of survival. They may have shared an interest in providing food for their families, so they joined with others to hunt or farm. Or they may have formed a community to protect themselves from any external threat to resources. Members of a community typically feel a sense of responsibility to one another.”

In her book A City Year, writer Suzanne Goldsmith recounts her year fresh out of Harvard as a community organizer, and how that year defined for her what “community” means. “Communities are not built of friends, or of groups with similar styles and tastes, or even of people who (necessarily) like and understand each other,” she argued. Instead, communities “are built of people who feel they are part of something that is bigger than themselves: a shared goal or enterprise, like righting a wrong, or building a road, or raising children, or living honorably. To build community requires only the ability to see value in others and to look at them and see a potential partner.”

This is a challenging time for all of us, but we are lucky to be surrounded by great “partners.” If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that when the chips are down, Montecitans go all in.

Today’s stories, by MJ writers: Mitchell Kriegman, Nicholas Schou, Kelly Mahan Herrick, Steven Libowitz, and Leslie Westbrook reporting from Summerland, are packed not only with important information (which changes hourly) but notable and inspiring examples of people stepping up to help our families, neighbors, and our most vulnerable residents.

To that End, the Montecito Journal will launch an emergency resource website ( Friday (3/20) ( to serve as a guide for where to go for the most up to date emergency information, community resources, and other relevant information pertaining to COVID-19 and our community’s well-being during this challenging time.

This is just the beginning of our-soon-to-be robust online presence that we will be rolling out over the next several months.

I try to stay away from over-used expressions, but I’m struggling to find one better than “silver linings.” Every once in a while, circumstances demand that we slow down. Take stock. Stay home with one’s family, with nowhere else to be.

The point is there are silver linings. My normally over-worked colleague finally had the chance this week to teach his son how to ride a bike. I watched a movie with one of my daughters, while my other daughter dyed my husband’s hair a very interesting shade of purple. I’m Facetiming with my scattered friends and relatives more than ever. The helpful woman at the cash register at Vons made me laugh. The workers at San Ysidro Pharmacy could not be more helpful. The list of things for which to be grateful is long.

It’s important to make sure that we have what we need for ourselves and our families. But if we can, it’s also important to give our extra lemons. Share our extra eggs. Because that’s what makes us not just a collection of people, but a community.


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