On the morning of August 16, 2020, more than 11,000 bolts of lightning struck the dry forest in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties, California, igniting a firestorm that covered more than 86,000 acres and destroyed 1,490 buildings. One of them was the home and workplace of our friend Sam C., a potter. Although the lives of Sam and his family were spared, the fire took everything else—his house, his workshop, the kiln he had just finished building by hand. Gone.
Sam’s house could be rebuilt—but, as we all know, it takes more than four walls and a roof to make a house a home. Family pictures, baby clothes, favorite keepsakes—not to mention the fruits of decades of labor—these could not be replaced.
As a potter, Sam had studied kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with gold. Rather than attempting to make whole what has been lost, kintsugi acknowledges the damage—the missing pieces, the jagged edges—and fills it with threads of pure gold. The object is not to deny loss but embrace and transform it.
In that same spirit, Sam took the burnt and broken bricks of his ravaged workshop and built a labyrinth… a sacred prayer and meditation circle that not only acknowledged what the fire had taken but made that destruction part of a new story of renewal and hope.
Moving Forward With Loss
Studies show that it takes an average of two years before a community can return to normal operations after a mass devastation. But what is the “normal” that people are returning to?
Long after the news crews have left, long after donations have stopped pouring in, long after “thoughts and prayers” have moved on, the struggle to heal goes on… often in silence and isolation. Small wonder that so many people doubt if their lives will ever be “normal” again.
The impulse to deny a loss is strong. In the aftermath of a tragedy, people want to fill the void as quickly as possible—get on with their lives, get back on that horse. Maybe find a new town to live in, a new career, new loved ones to replace the ones who were lost, new keepsakes to replace the old.
Is this possible? And even if it is, should we want to replace what’s been taken?
As the saying goes, “We don’t move on from our loss, we move forward with it.” The journey from trauma to reintegration requires more than new things to replace the old. The loss is part of the story of our renewal. The question is: how do we include the broken and missing parts of ourselves in that story?
The Rebirth of Connection
Stars of HOPE began with a simple idea: that we heal ourselves by helping others to heal.
Many of the people who joined together to create Stars of HOPE were survivors of tragedy and disaster—or folks who had witnessed that suffering at close hand. This included people who had lost children and close friends in the 9/11 attacks… survivors of hurricanes, fires, and tornadoes… people whose loved ones had been killed in mass shootings. Anyone who has been through such a tragedy knows that the emotional and psychological damage can last for years. You don’t simply mourn the loss. You feel empty, as if some part of you is irretrievably gone. You no longer feel connected to anything, not even yourself.
In the aftermath of the Greensburg, Kansas tornado of 2007, Stars of HOPE first began to hang our humble, hand-painted wooden stars all around the remnants of ravaged homes. We knew we could never replace what had been taken away. Our only hope was to let survivors know that they were seen. They still mattered. They were still a community—a community that had in many ways grown larger because it now included people from far away, who were still carrying the burdens of their own losses. This was the inspiration for one of our favorite mantras: “Alone we feel, but together we heal.”
People have many things to say about the stars they receive—they feel more confident, valued, calmer and less anxious. But the most cherished thing they tell us is that because someone took the time to paint a star and pass it on, they now feel less alone. Human connection is powerful magic.
You are Part of the Healing
The “New Normal” isn’t simply a version of the old normal. It is a chance for meaningful connection… to discover something infinitely remarkable and special about others in need. That begins with the knowledge that you are more than what you’ve suffered—you also are part of the healing that our world needs.
If you have experienced a deep loss—whether a personal one, or one that is part of a greater natural disaster—there are a few very important things we would like you to know:
You are still you. Loss can take away many things, precious things, but it can’t take away the deepest and most essential part of you. Even the intense pain you’re feeling can’t destroy it. Whatever you love most is still within you. It can and will flourish again.
You are not alone. Whatever you are experiencing, someone—somewhere—has been through it as well. We paint stars to create connections from one survivor to the next.
Your story has value to others. Just as the tragedies of 9/11 move us to send hope to survivors of other traumatic events, your experience—no matter how terrible it has been—can plant the seeds of hope for someone else who is living through the worst time in their life.
If we can be part of your healing… if you are motivated to join with us, either by donating your time, your donation, your creative energy, or simply the impulse to read and share articles like this one… then we welcome you into our community. There are so many ways for you to help weave those golden threads into the broken and missing places in another person’s life.