“Imagine a Place Called Home,” Aug. 29, 2017


Two days after Hurricane Harvey ripped into the Texas coast, I sat at a window in Pacific Grove, Calif., watching the sun set on Monterey Bay.

In the distance, on water as blue as the sky and calm as a lake, sailboats glistened like the wings of angels. A tour boat of whale watchers left a “V” in its wake as it headed back to dock in time for supper. Seagulls soared and swooped and cackled. Pelicans glided along the shore, diving for sardines and anchovies.

In a quiet cove by Lovers Point, a family of sea otters lay belly-up, anchored in a bed of kelp, cracking clams or crabs (“clack-clack!”) with a rock.

Along Ocean View Blvd., stately old Victorians blushed pink in the setting sun. And as day turned to evening, lights began to glitter around the bay, forming what locals like to call “the Queen’s Necklace.”

I wish you could’ve seen it.

Amid the stillness and peace of that lovely moment, my mind kept replaying horrific images and stories from the news about the devastation in Texas.

It’s hard to be at peace when your neighbors are in danger.

My husband and I live in Las Vegas, but we’ve spent the past month visiting family and friends on the Monterey Peninsula, the place we first met and will always call home. I lived in Pacific Grove for more than 30 years. My three children grew up riding their bikes to school and to the beach and the ice-cream parlor.

From preschool through middle school, they marched with their classmates every fall in a parade to celebrate the return migration of Monarch butterflies to the town. Two of my grandchildren are set to march in that parade this year.

Does that sound overly idyllic? Maybe. But aren’t hometowns places we all tend to idealize, even if only in memories?

Thinking about the news from Texas, I tried to imagine Pacific Grove in the aftermath of a Category 4 hurricane. What would 130 mph winds, a 12-foot storm surge and as much as 60 inches of rain do to this place that I know so well and love so dearly?

Those boats in the bay? The Victorians on the waterfront? The birds and otters and other wildlife? The schools and churches, homes and possessions, hopes and dreams and, most of all, the lives of my children and grandchildren and neighbors and friends?

I couldn’t imagine it.

Sometimes life makes the unimaginable a reality. And the best we can do _ an essential act of empathy that makes us, at once, most human and most godlike, and enables us to help bear each other’s burdens _ is to picture ourselves in the place of those who are suffering and try to feel what they feel.

If we can do that, we will find ways, with the grace of God, to help them survive and move forward with their lives. And then, when the unimaginable becomes a reality for us, we can hope that others, in turn, will see themselves in our place and try to feel what we feel.

I’ve never been to Rockport, Texas, the small town where Hurricane Harvey made landfall. But my heart goes out to the people who call it home _ and to thousands of others in Corpus Christi and Houston and all across the Gulf Coast _ who have lost so much and stand to lose even more in days to come.

To feel for someone’s suffering is a start. But it’s only a beginning. The victims of Hurricane Harvey need prayers and encouragement. But they are also in dire need of money.

Here are two places to donate: The Salvation Army at 1-800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769) or www.salvationarmyusa.org; and the American Redcross at 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or www.redcross.org.


  1. sue ortenburger says

    As Billie S said above, this is my first fan letter. I also feel as if know you, I been a reader since the Bay Window days, and have followed you and your family. Your ability to capture feelings, both expressed and not verbalized is incredible. Your observations, of scenery and souls is so vivid…awesome. I bought 3 copies of Birdbaths and Paper Cranes when it first came out, and since then have found two more in thrift stores on the Penninsula. Are your wonderful grandchildren being a distraction from publishing another book? 🙂

  2. Billie Shurtleff says

    Dear Sharon, (I address you as if I know you, I feel as though I do.)
    Only so you’ll better appreciate the sincerity of my comments, I want you to know that I am a woman in my late seventies and although I have contemplated writing a “Fan letter” once or twice before, this is my first.
    Your ability to describe a scene and transport me there, an emotion such as fellow feeling and my heart can break or soar, this and several other comments you’ve made, has made a fan of me.
    I look forward to seeing your column in the paper each day. Thank you for touching my heart.
    Sincerely, Billie

  3. Kate Sciacca says

    Such an awesome description of PG and the Monterey Bay… makes me anxious to go back.

    I don’t think the media is capable of covering the immense devastation occurring in southeast Texas and Louisiana. My BIL is a swift water/helicopter paramedic with L.A. FD – his crew has been in southeast Texas since last Tuesday. The rescue work is non-stop – and they plan to be there for at least another week.

    These poor folks are going to need our prayers and whatever other help we can offer for months (maybe years) to come. Let’s especially pray that they are not hit again this year.

  4. Hi Sharon, loved hearing you’re staying at the “best seat in the house” in Pacific Grove! We’ve had some beautiful days to go along with “car week” on the Peninsula. I loved your beautiful description of Monterey Bay…makes me stop and think about what we take for granted because it’s the view we have every day of the week. Thanks for the thoughtful story through your eyes…as we keep Texas in our prayers!

  5. Two of our teen girls from Mayflower live in areas hit by Harvey.
    B. Copsey wasn’t hit hard (just north of Austin), but J. Hodges lives in NE Houston… 40+ inches.
    Many PG homes homes would not have fared well, you’re right, especially in the Lover’s Point area. Love and miss you.

  6. Beth Heeren says

    I loved your article! I was on the peninsula last month for a reunion. We returned from Yellowstone (a vacation with Jim and Eileen) , to the Austin area. Just a few puddles here. I can’t imagine how my Houston and coastal neighbors must feel. It is gratifying to see how Texans pull together, and how the faith community pulls together! Thanks for sharing how to help, and keep praying!

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