Love And Light In The Darkness: The Third Annual 1/9 Commemoration

By Sharon Byrne   |   January 21, 2021
The searchlight as part of the Third Annual 1/9 Commemoration (photo credit: Marco Farrell)

Saturday night, many of us gathered electronically to commemorate the third anniversary of the Debris Flow that claimed 23 of our community members, destroyed hundreds of homes, and shook us to our core. 

It’s a day we’ll never forget. 

As with all major disasters, the entire community experienced a collective trauma: shock, loss, grief, and overwhelm. 

We’ve held two large commemorative events in years past, but this year we were presented with a stiff challenge: How do you bring the community together when you can’t gather? At least, not in person.

A small team of Montecito Fire, the Montecito Association, the Montecito Community Foundation, Montecito Union School, Cold Spring School, and others that worked on the prior year’s events started asking this question in December, and Abe Powell of the Bucket Brigade gathered us on Zoom to figure it out.

The answer: we’ll do it electronically. Over Zoom. Or livestream. Or Facebook Live. All of the above!

Many of us have had to migrate to electronic forms of meeting and doing business this past year, out of necessity. While we’ve mastered Montecito Association Board meetings over Zoom, for example, there’s rather a bit of a jump to doing a livestream event that involves three locations and three broadcast outlets. 

The premise was simple: do something powerful but compact, using video, so everyone could participate, privately from their homes, to the extent they felt most comfortable. No one has to risk their health. We’ll commemorate the day, and honor those who were lost, as a community.

Trying to make all that work, however, turned out to be arduous, even for the Tech Wizards on this team. We test drove the technology and equipment. We hit glitches. We scrambled. Abe Powell hustled to procure equipment, set it up, and test, while we were at our individual locations, right up until showtime.  

Then we hit a few more glitches, such as Zoom failing to work, and video switchover delays. Grrr. Thankfully, we still had Facebook Live on both the Bucket Brigade’s and the Montecito Association’s pages, and KEYT livestreamed it on their website. We recorded the event, so folks could see it.

At least part of the event was visible and audible from anywhere in Montecito. No tech needed. Whew. 

We were stunned at showtime when a trombone or foghorn (depending on who you asked, and where you were) fired off 23 times at 6:30 pm. We have no idea who that was, but appreciated their honoring of the day.

At Manning Park, the Montecito Fire Department held a moment of silence to honor the memory of those we lost in the Debris Flow in 2018 (photo credit: KEYT)

Chief Kevin Taylor began the evening at Montecito Fire, with an invocation that was both heartfelt and heartwarming. Firefighters experienced our trauma up close that morning – they lifted us out of the mud, navigating an entirely new landscape, the old one obliterated by giant geological movement. Chief Taylor made it very clear that we’d suffered, but we’d also found new strength and community connection. He also said what we all most fervently wanted the night to express:

You are cared for in this community. You are loved.

Our firefighters then carried lit candles, from our first year’s event at Manning Park (electric, not live flame) and carefully placed them on the table in front of the fire engine. They did this one-by-one, in silence. We then held a moment of silence, to remember together, and honor the memory of those we lost.

Bells then rang out across the community. We shifted to Cold Spring School, where Dr. Amy Alzina had children ring the bell, with Keith Hamm from the Bucket Brigade filming from his iPhone. The bells were supposed to ring in unison, but sometimes there’s the event you want to do, and then there’s the event-that-wants-to-be-done. It actually sounded lovely, as I listened from MUS, to hear different bells going off in the darkness across the community, from El Montecito Church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, MUA, Cold Spring School, and the Montecito Fire Station. 

Finally, we shifted to MUS, where Superintendent Anthony Ranii let us put up a searchlight to shine into the night sky. We had trouble switching the video link to my iPhone, but then… there it was: a powerful symbol of raising our light in the darkness. 

Right up until people pulled into the parking lot, shining their headlights straight into my camera, obliterating the visual.

Sigh. They wanted to be part of the night, too, clearly. It was for everyone.

While it did not come off as perfectly as your little intrepid community-based event planners hoped, in hindsight, maybe it was enough. It was a perfectly dark and quiet night. You could see the light from Santa Barbara. People were able to remember and honor that day safely, in privacy, allowing them to grieve as they needed, while also being with others in community.

It was a night of love and light, in the darkness – a collective hug for Montecito. 

We will never forget.


You might also be interested in...