Nothing Like a 2-Alarm Fire to Give You Some Perspective

Over the last twelve years or so I’ve gotten to see a lot of community acupuncture clinics in a lot of different phases. I’ve gotten to see the newly-rented storefronts with nothing in them but potential; the newly-painted rooms with piles of half-assembled IKEA furniture; the carefully arranged recliners all ready for the grand opening; the tiny, warm, super-efficient shared spaces for a slowly-growing clinic — all the way up through the spacious, cozy, well-worn Big Damn Clinics that thousands of people have passed through. I’ve even seen a clinic in the process of closing, with everything being carefully, regretfully, folded up and packed away.

But until this morning, I’ve never seen a community acupuncture clinic destroyed.

It was cold and dark and reeked of smoke. I was standing on a mound of insulation and soaking-wet ceiling tiles that squished when I moved. I looked around the back treatment room at WCA Lents, with blackened wires corkscrewing down from where the dropped ceiling used to be, charred joists above, wind knocking at the boarded up windows where the firefighters had smashed their way through, the walls streaked with smoke and water damage, the IKEA lampshades hanging in shreds, debris in every direction, and all I could think was, “Wow.”

The hardest thing to look at was an overturned recliner half-buried under a pile of insulation and what might have been ash. It occurred to me that this was somebody’s favorite chair.

You know, it’s weird what turns out to be validating.

This was before I saw the torrent of emails that had filled up WCA’s inbox, all saying, “I’m so sorry, what can I do to help?”; before the receptor who called all the Lents patients to reschedule them told us that people’s responses were so loving that they made her cry; before a dozen people offered to start fundraising for us. I looked at that overturned recliner and I felt it: all these people I won’t ever meet have been using this clinic and it means so much to them.

A community acupuncture clinic is basically a nexus where people, ordinary people, come together to take care of themselves. Those of us who work in them are just holding the space, creating the container. There are different aspects to that and the physical room is only one.

In a strange way the aftermath of this fire feels like a validation of everything we’ve said, everything we’ve done, and everything we want to do but haven’t yet been able to. Acupuncture is a tool for communities to take care of themselves. We need physical spaces for that to happen in, but we also need the right kind of education, the right kind of regulation, the right economic and legal structures to serve as a container for that self-care.

Sometimes wreckage makes truth especially visible. When everything’s in ruins but the center’s somehow intact, you can’t fail to notice it.

The whole time I’ve been involved with the acupuncture profession it seems like it’s been obsessed with validation. When will the healthcare system recognize our value? When will insurance companies give us our due? When will we get the respect we deserve — when will the important people acknowledge us, pass laws in our favor, bestow dignity on us?

I looked at that overturned recliner and realized: there’s nothing that anybody IMPORTANT could give us that’s more important than this. Whether it’s a broken, waterlogged, ash-covered recliner upside down in a destroyed community acupuncture clinic or just a regular, shabby, functioning recliner right side up in a regular, shabby, functioning community acupuncture clinic, it’s a sign of what we ordinary people give to each other. And there’s nothing — nothing! — more valuable.

Author: lisafer

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  1. There IS truly something valuable in destruction and the beauty and community and best of humanity that comes together to support each other and lift up and mend what is broken. Although it’s heart-wrenching to imagine standing in the aftermath with the unknown of when and what can happen next, I know that a lot of the love and sweat and labor that you guys have put out is going to be returned!

  2. It was really shocking and sad to see the posts about this as they first happened, and after being very glad everyone was ok, my next thought was “thank goodness they’re a BDC!” Not that it is easy to shift things around and tackle the repairs when you all have quite enough (and more) on your plates but I’m so glad you have a system of clinics to keep things rolling as well as possible.

  3. Thank you all for the kind comments.

    Spartacus, we’re totally noticing that today as we’re getting people rescheduled to other clinics. It’s also a wonderful thing to have a POCA comrade to the south to refer people to: Sarah Baden of Acupuncture for Wellness.

    It’s also a wake-up call to see how utterly disruptive this is to a lot of patients. Fingers crossed that the insurance folks want to give us $$ to open a temporary location, and soon, because things can’t go on like this.

  4. Such a wet squirrel in the face to hear about the fire, and that sat hard and cold in my gut for the last few days, but this post made me remember the most important thing about all of it. Shit inevitably happens, but it’s really damn cool to have something that’s so obviously worth rebuilding.