Change is good, or so they say, but when the change is not of choice but foisted upon you, such as the changes wrought by wildfires, it can be very painful. The grief visited upon people in such a situation can be intense. I am one of the fortunate ones, our home was untouched. Two weeks after fleeing Fort McMurray news continues to be grim with no idea of when we can return to our homes, for those of us with homes to go back to; for those who lost everything the pain and grief must be overwhelming. Yes, we are alive and thankful for that, but the little things that make a house a home, the finger painting by a child dear to your heart and proudly displayed, grandma’s letters, photographs, personal items, the list goes on and on…..items that have sentimental value beyond any dollar amount; items that bring back precious memories – all gone. I cannot imagine the heartbreak.
The fire ripped us all out of our day to day lives and deposited us into a pit of fear, stress, and confusion. The immediate needs for water, food, and clothing have been met, for the most part. However, the secondary needs for safety, security, order, and freedom from fear are yet to be met in many instances. For those traumatized by driving through areas engulfed by flame – it may take many years before they feel safe again. The need to see friends and family members, to hug them, to commiserate, to celebrate, to share both the pain and the joy of being alive - the deep seeded needs of the heart – these needs go unfulfilled as friends and family are dispersed across the province and the country. And then there are esteem needs. The need for self-respect and for the respect of others takes a beating when you are standing in an evacuation centre totally dependent on the kindness and care of strangers, which, don’t get me wrong, has been extremely generous, but the comfort of wearing clothing you have chosen yourself, and all the comforts of home are greatly missed leaving one feeling lost and vulnerable.
Two books I have read spring to mind: At the border called Hope by Mary Jo Leddy and City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre. The first chronicles the challenges faced by refugees and new Canadians in Toronto, the latter life in the ghettos surrounding the city of Calcutta and the abject poverty there. Both books offer a deeper insight into the lived reality of people facing dire circumstances. Both books celebrate the resiliency and strength of the human spirit. I find myself identifying more strongly with the poor, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, and those on the fringes of society. If there is any good to be gained from the wildfire in Fort McMurray let it be a more generous response to all people in the world facing hardships wherever they may live.