Maria’s Sunday Paper: Nothing Like a Wildfire to Get Your Priorities in Check…

What a week it has been.

Wednesday, I awoke to the smell of smoke inside my home. I rushed to my back door and found that smoke filled the air outside as well. Immediately, I knew something was wrong.

I turned on the news and saw that wildfires were raging out of control just a few miles from my home. I watched in disbelief as firefighters battled brush and winds on the hillside along our big freeway, which was engulfed in flames.

It looked like a scene out of a movie, but this was real life. And, it was unfolding in real time.

My daughters called to see if I was okay. One asked me, “What’s happening?” I told them it would be fine, but then a friend called and told me she was evacuating. With urgency in her voice, she told me to grab some stuff and get out now.

I could feel my kids’ anxiety about the situation. I could feel my friend’s anxiety. But still, I didn’t think I needed to move just yet. Then, I found out that my neighborhood and my street were being told to prepare to evacuate. (I learned this via an email that was forwarded to me, not a text message, phone call or more immediate form of communication. I think this system of alerting people needs to be modernized.)

Prepare. Prepare to evacuate at a moment’s notice, said the e-mail. Gather up what you need, it stated. Medicine. Pets. Important Papers. Precious belongings. You must be ready at a moment’s notice to leave.

Immediately, I found myself in the midst of making split-second decisions about what mattered to me and to my kids, and what didn’t. (I’m not a quick decision maker, but in this instance, I surprised myself.)

My heart beat fast as I grabbed the notes and cards my kids had written to me, which luckily I keep in a bag next to my bed. I grabbed their school drawings off the wall and threw them in my car. I grabbed something from each of my parents. I grabbed some other family photos and a few other items from people I love. I didn’t grab a single bag or piece of clothing, although my daughter did grab one purse that my mother had given me. In that moment, when it felt like I had everything to lose, nothing else mattered.

I know it shouldn’t take a wildfire to remind me how unimportant “stuff” is. It shouldn’t take a wildfire to remind me how important friends and family are, or how deeply I love my kids and how proud I am of them. But, in these moments, you really are reminded of what really matters.

My daughters were amazing, calm, helpful, and generous during these uncertain moments. (Both of my boys were out of town.) I was proud of them. Proud to see what they grabbed for themselves and for me. Proud that they were so concerned about so many others.(They even called to ask their brothers and dad what items they should grab that meant to them.) They were also especially focused on all of the animals in harm’s way.

So many people have lost everything in these fires. So many others in America lost so much in the hurricanes earlier this year. So many people have lost everything they own this year. Everything they worked their whole lives for. In a moment, they lost it all.

In a moment, everything can be gone. Everything can change. We’re reminded of this all the time on the news. We see it all around us every day. A moment can make all the difference.

This all got me thinking. Do you know what you would grab if you were told you had just a moment? Do you know what you would say if you had just a moment to say it? Do you know who you would call? Do you have someone in your circle who will check on you, and be there for you?

This fire just reaffirmed for me what I already knew. What I value are the personal notes my kids have given me over the years. I value the heartfelt gifts that have been given to me by those I love. I value what’s personal. I didn’t grab the Emmys. I didn’t grab my clothes. I didn’t grab the things I dreamt of when I was in my 20s. I grabbed the things with meaning. I grabbed what represented my family, love, and hope.

As I sit writing this, I think of all of the firefighters still out there fighting on the frontlines. There really are no words to express my admiration and gratitude. As I sit listening to the news about my fellow Californians—families whose homes have burned to the ground—I am in awe of their resilience. I am almost speechless as I listen to them talk about their hopes for moving forward. Their strength moves me.

As I sit here, with my car still packed with all the things that matter to me, I’m reminded that it’s the little things that matter most. These are the things we want to take with us.

In my purse, I have a medal that my mother gave me. It’s sharing space with my kids’ letters, a rosary necklace, and a stone in the shape of a heart that I hold when I need support. When I was told I had to grab what mattered, it was illuminating for me to see what I felt compelled to grab, and what I didn’t care about at all.

Life is a series of moments. Don’t wait for a wildfire or another natural disaster to remind you of what really matters and what doesn’t. Don’t wait for a wildfire to say what you need to say. Don’t spend your moments accumulating stuff that doesn’t matter in the moment because, sometimes, all you have is a moment.


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P.S. For more of what “I’ve Been Thinking,” I hope you’ll check out my upcoming book, “I’ve Been Thinking…: Reflections, Prayers and Meditations for a Meaningful Life.” It’s available for pre-order now. I was inspired to write it thanks to all of the positive feedback I receive from you, readers of The Sunday Paper, each week. So, thank you. I love being in community with you.



THIS SEASON, GIVE YOURSELF THE GIFT OF COMPASSION: My friend Architect of Change Jack Kornfield tells us that in order to have compassion for others, we must start by having compassion for ourselves and being comfortable in our own skin. His insightful words will help heal your soul this morning and expand your capacity to love others. 


OPENING OUR HEARTS TO A FULL RANGE OF EMOTIONS: When things aren’t going right, the last thing we should do is try to convince ourselves that everything is fine. According to Architect of Change Susan David, the path to happiness is not “putting on a happy face.” Instead, we must allow ourselves to navigate life’s journey with self-acceptance and be open to feeling all of our varying emotions.


SHARING THE LOVE YOU FIND WITHIN YOURSELF: In the current environment of polarization, it isn’t always easy to show love to someone you disagree with. Architect of Change Sharon Salzberg, a New York Times bestselling author and teacher of Buddhist meditation, says that whatever you pray for in yourself, you are capable of giving to another.


HOW TO HELP THOSE COPING WITH LOSS: In her moving essay, Rebecca Whitehead Munn, author ofThe Gift of Goodbye: A Story of Agape Love,” reminds us to be emotionally sensitive to those who are dealing with loss or grief. We’ve been inundated with stories lately of people losing everything—be it their loved ones or their home. Today, Rebecca shares her personal story of loss and gives us tips for how we can cope.


LOSS MOTIVATES COUPLE TO CULTIVATE KINDNESS IN THEIR COMMUNITY: Architects of Change Rich and Samantha Specht lost their 22-month-old son in a backyard drowning. Devastated, but determined not to give up hope, they channeled their emotional loss into creating the ReesSpecht Life Foundation. The foundation encourages individuals to perform an act of kindness and then pass the message of compassion forward to others in their communities. The Spechts were among the many community heroes nominated via our Architect of Change/Ford Campaign

SPEAKING OF CULTIVATING KINDNESS… I was so touched by my daughter’s actions this week. She took it upon herself to help spread the word about Addie Abernathey, a terminally four-year-old, and her family from Boise, Idaho, who were trying to raise funds to bring their little girl to Disneyland. Today, the family is at the theme park, enjoying their dream come true. If you ever need a reminder of what can happen when one person takes a step forward to do something, this is it. Read the Abernathey’s touching story here. 


1. WILDFIRES RAGE ACROSS SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: As I wrote earlier, wildfires are causing massive damage here in my city and state. It’s really heartbreaking for those who have lost everything in an instant., which is why it’s important that during this time, we help our neighbors in need.

You can donate or volunteer your time to the local Red Cross, Salvation Army or Humane Society. Or, you can also help one of the organizations below:

2. OBAMA SAYS WE NEED MORE WOMEN TO RUN FOR LEADERSHIP: I love that at a speaking engagement in Paris this week, the former president told the gathering that we need more female leaders, because “men seem to be having problems these days.”  And in a related story, the New York Times reports that hundreds of women across the country are, in fact, lining up to run for office.

3. ‘HIPPIE’ INSTITUTE REOPENS AS HAVEN FOR SILICON VALLEY TECHIES: I found it interesting that the fabled Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA, has reopened under new management as a retreat for over-worked Silicon Valley executives.  Earlier this year, I spoke with Architects of Change Scott and Joanie Kriens, the founders of another retreat, 1440 Multiversity, about the importance of taking breaks to heal ourselves and our relationships. 

4. TRUMP RECOGNIZES JERUSALEM AS CAPITAL OF ISRAEL, ORDERS U.S. EMBASSY TO RELOCATE: If you’ve ever wondered about the power of your vote, let this be a reminder. Votes matter because the people we elect can change history in an instant, like Trump did this week with this decision.  

5. “THE SILENCE BREAKERS” ANNOUNCED AS TIME MAGAZINE’S PERSON OF THE YEAR: Instead of naming a single person this year, the magazine celebrates all of the brave women who came forward to report sexual attacks and harassment. What especially stands out to me is that all of the great reporting, photography, and editing were accomplished by women. 

Of course, there has been some buzz about why Gretchen Carlson was left out of the piece and how she should have been in it, which I agree with. So today, I decided to re-share my interview with her from October so that her story can be heard, too. See below. Also, bravo to Gretchen for joining a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday to introduce legislation that would help ensure that women who have been harassed in the workplace aren’t kept from speaking up.


Pavana Reddy is a poet who has gained a following on Instagram by speaking directly from her heart. Today, her words remind us to surround ourselves with people who lift us up and don’t bring us down.



Get Empowered. Pass It Forward.

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Also, now through the end of December: every time you purchase from Rivet Revolution’s “WAM Band Collection,” $20 will be donated to The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, courtesy of our partners at Rivet and Home Care Assistance. Get yours today and give this gift for a good cause.



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