Tuesday, May 8, 2012
It aint over 'til the fat lady sings
After two days of clouds, snow, rain and mist, the sun is shining brightly today. We have had June weather in March, and now March weather in May. Seems Mother Nature cannot make up her mind. This is the joy of Colorado living.
Yesterday, my neighbors and I took our third trip to the Capitol. This time to testify in front of a Senate committee about the future of what has now become two bills to assist victims of the fire. After pressure from the press (primarily Channel 7), the Governor, Attorney General and legislators from both sides of the aisle came together in a press conference to declare their desire to work together. Our testimonies last week in front of the house were very different than last night in front of the senate. Something was shifting in big government and we could sense it in the room. Hardened lawmakers were softening up and actually wiping away tears as they listened to our words. The senators that sponsored the bill both got choked up as they presented their case. All of us were more emotional too. Yes we are tired and yes it’s hard to tell the story over and over but it seemed we were even rawer and tears flowed from most of us as we shared in front of this strangely sympathetic group.
The bill passed 5-0 and they took what was supposed to be a 5-minute recess before resuming what was sure to be a long night for them. Five minutes stretched to at least 20 as they took time to shake our hands and offer hugs. Hugs from senators? What was going on here? I swear love was in the air – humans experiencing each other’s pain and sorrow; a willingness to be with all of it. Many remarked that they couldn’t even begin to understand – and they were committed to making it right.
We had learned the night before that we needed to be there at 10:30am. Of course we rallied, cancelling plans, changing appointments and declaring our ongoing unity as a group. We ended up sitting and waiting for a couple hours in the morning with no idea of what was going to happen. Finally around 12pm, we were told to come back for a 4 or 5pm appearance. Daunted but still determined, we pulled out our phone tree of who would call whom and said our goodbyes. I watched our group, aging from mid 20’s to mid 80’s walk back out into the misty rain and felt another level of kinship with these people many of whom were strangers a mere month ago. We have bonded the way only survivors do. We know what we are seeing when we look into each other’s eyes. We share a hard-earned camaraderie. I felt for the elderly neighbors who by choice live miles and miles away from the chaos of downtown. What were they to do during our break? No one complained, the commitment was so great. There was no question we would be back.
Returning at 3:30pm, we sat again and waited even longer. After a while, the hallways began buzzing with lawmakers and the time came. Our testimonies finally beginning after 6pm. Tired but determined, we shared our pain, stories and pictures again. We asked for the government to step up and do the right thing. Then, many senators echoed our own words, Tim Neville asked us to hold their “feet to the fire”. Rollie Heath exclaimed, “Your testimonies are difficult to hear… this event is due to the negligence of state agencies.” The over-arching theme being: we want to make this right. Co-sponsor Bill Cadman closed with “we need to take responsibility above and beyond… Governmental immunity is not moral impunity.”
Both bills will now go to the Governor. They are far from perfect – and yet they are better than nothing. As Scott Appel (who lost his wife Ann) pointed out, “The legislation says what can be done. It does not say what will be done.”
We are not even close to being finished. Many challenges lie ahead. And, just because they may remove the liability caps, does not mean they will ever pay any money. There are no guarantees in this game called government. We will still have to prove our cases, express our pain, show our pictures, and tell our stories. We will need to return over and over to the Capitol or similar venues. There will be no immediate gratification – or anything even close.
I am proud to be among my neighbors. We don’t have to walk through this alone – together we are stronger. We have our supporters in the public, seemingly in the legislature and definitely in the media. We are grateful to Channel 7 and Marshall Zellinger and Amanda Kost for tirelessly keeping this story alive, for taking a multitude of trips up to our charred forests, for staying up late and getting up early, for looking into our eyes and hearts and being willing to fight for us.
And even with all the support, we know we are just beginning. As my dear neighbor Sharon Scanlon said, “It isn't over 'til the fat lady sings and she isn’t singing for a long, long time.”