The Struggle for the Soul of America: Living on the Brink

It’s been eight days since police banged on my door in the middle of the night ordering me and my Mineral Hill neighbors to evacuate. Since then, like many other evacuees, I’ve been nervously watching the online daily briefings which describe the efforts being made by fifteen hundred courageous firefighters to contain the raging firestorm that has now engulfed 175,000 acres of northeast New Mexico.

Friday several of us drove back to our country homes to salvage valuable belongings before the fire could consume them. We all wore masks to protect us from the irritating smoke that filled the air. Given the predictions of dangerously high winds beginning the next day and lasting for possibly a week, it appeared likely to be our last chance to save what we could before the fire might come sweeping through our valley. There was no time to lose.

While I anxiously wait to see whether the fire will spare my home, I can’t help thinking about the thousands of New Mexicans who have already lost everything. Many have found refuge in shelters in Las Vegas, Glorieta and elsewhere. Some are living in their vehicles. All are devastated and just want to go home.

Unfortunately, as of Saturday, May 7, the fire was only 21% contained. It will be weeks or months, in some cases even longer, before people can go back to their properties and restore or rebuild their homes. Some without insurance may never be able to do that. But none of us will ever forget this life-altering experience.

Yet could there be a silver lining to this catastrophe? People are coming together to aid each other and help those in need get through this tragedy. My little Mineral Hill community has been in constant contact providing mutual support. Saturday evening, we got together for pizza, beer, and mutual commiseration. We shared our feelings, memories and hopes for a brighter tomorrow.

This devastating fire has brought us closer together. It’s given me a deeper insight into the value and importance of community. I know that there are people I can count on when I need them. And they know they can count on me as well. It’s a special feeling. Ironically, that which is life-shattering can often be life-affirming as well.

Additionally, when disaster strikes close to home, it can be a wake-up call. It is an opportunity for us to re-examine what is truly valuable in our lives. We may desire successful careers, nicer clothes or expensive cars, but what really matters the most in life is good friends, community and family.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See, the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at

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