The pandemic put Mercer’s already-busy schedule into overdrive, as she created art kits to deliver during quarantine, recorded videos to demo projects that could be done at home, and developed new programs for the eventual return to in-person gatherings. By the time I visited in March 2021, she’d cautiously started running some sessions outside, including nature photography courses.
She shared a story with me from one of her recent programs with a group of fourth-graders. To start off their time together, she asked a sort of ice breaker question: if they could go anywhere this summer, where would they go? The answers were pretty much what you’d expect, she said—Hawaii, Disneyland—until the last student chimed in.
“I wish I could go to the day before the fire and tell everyone to leave,” Mercer remembers him saying.
For the kids she was working with, she explained, the pandemic was a compounding trauma because they were very much still in the process of recovering from the Camp Fire. So was she; so were many others in the community.
“Our souls, in so many regards, are so weathered,” Mercer said. “We still need help, we still need support.”
On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its final tally of 2021’s billion-dollar disasters in the United States. I’ve written before
about this often-quoted analysis—what it says and what it omits—and I thought this blog
from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Vijay Limaye did a good job of further breaking down how it is, inevitably, an underestimation of cost and loss.
Reading those numbers, I thought about Mercer’s words and how many people started this new year in the recovery process. The people in Colorado
, or Texas
, just to name a few of the areas impacted in 2021, but also the people still in the recovery process from the year or years before, their stories out of the headlines and donations dwindling. And all of them—all of us—still muddling through a pandemic that has further laid bare so many of the inequities that are often intimately familiar to those who have experienced disasters.
So, entering into another year of this newsletter, I wanted to say thank you for taking a little time each week to learn more about those people in the process and the process itself. And for anyone who entered into this new year struggling, I wanted to share some simple advice from Mercer on how she gets through some of her more difficult days:
“Preserve your mornings has been something that has really benefited me. When I get up, I don’t look at my phone, even though I know there’s a lot of little things on my screen…
I pet my dog, and I slowly have a cup of coffee out of a goofy coffee cup, because it makes me giggle. I ask my Alexa a joke every day—possibly up to five, depending on the day. I make sure that I feel clean and ready for the day…
Is it a hard day for me? Maybe I need to step back a little bit. Preserving your mornings and even spending that half an hour to really just deep dive within yourself—it doesn’t have to get super heavy, but know your capabilities before you go apply them.”