It is not that often I wake up in a funk. Today, I have come down with a case of megrims. I think it has a lot to do with the wildfires in Northern California, and the damage they are causing to humans and other ecosystems. San Francisco (and surrounding areas) have the fifth-worst air quality on the planet right now.
I have been in San Francisco for nearly 18 years, and over the past five years, these kinds of smoky conditions have become more prevalent. As humans, we can see and feel the impact of the wildfires, but what goes unnoticed is causing more long term damage.
I recently read 1 that as fires get closer and into urban areas, they start contaminating the drinking water supplies. Burning homes and other structures, vegetation, and plastic materials all eventually enter our water supply. And there are non-human ecosystems (such as microbial) that have been unable to cope and recover2.
The wildfires only exacerbated what I have been feeling for a while now. A long time ago, I wondered about what is home in a connected age. “Home, in the connected age is such a fluid concept, given how much we are always moving from one place to another, like proverbial free agents,” I observed then. I suppose, in a way, I was possibly talking about today. “Home is because of our formative experiences. Those experiences define how we view the world. Our physical interaction with a place defines how we feel about that place. New York’s streets and corners have a story attached to them and I guess that gives a sense of belonging, and in the process act as a markers on the timeline called life.”
I didn’t think of San Francisco as Home at that point, but fast forward to today, unbeknown to me, it is home. This past week, three of my favorite neighbors have moved out. Another close friend has packed up and moved out of San Francisco. Slowly, I am starting to lose people and places that gave life some context. Life is the context friends, and places provide us.
Many of my favorite places are shutting down. Reality has a porous quality to it now. And like the ash falling from the sky, it is sprinkling a sense of loss. I wonder how many others feel this social disruption that is happening around us.
We have a framework of vanishing relationships. These relationships give context to who we are, what we do, and where we live. The coffeeshop we sat down for meetings and conversations are now being replaced by two-dimensional take-it-to-go experiences that lack the dimensionalities of human experience. How can you lend emotional payload to picking a cup of coffee from a barista behind a glass wall and a mask?
We all think of home in terms of physicality, but in reality, it is about close connections. What happens when all these close connections are scattered? Who will we be? Nomads, who think they work from home, but they don’t even know what is home.
August 21, 2020, San Francisco