“Don’t feel guilty for having a laugh at something. You might say, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t be laughing.’ Yeah, you should be. … Your family is with you, you’re alive and that’s joyful.” – Sharon Watcher, Slave Lake, AB
The above quote was taken from a news story talking about how the people of Slave Lake, Alberta, who also survived fire, were reaching out to evacuees from Fort McMurray to offer their support and advice. The quote struck me because one of the long lasting effects of the fire was the incredible sense of guilt I feel for not losing anything of material worth to the fire. They call it “survivor’s guilt” and it’s with me still, even a year later. Mostly it’s because so many people have yet to rebuild their homes, or have taken a substantial financial loss by walking away. I witness faces filled with frustration, sadness, or pain almost on a daily basis.
Last year we spent the month of May safely ensconced in Sylvan Lake, a picturesque little town halfway between Calgary and Edmonton. It was a stressful time, but it was also a time filled with more blessings than I can count. And I do like to keep a positive attitude as much as possible. But a year after the fire it feels like Fort McMurray has been forgotten, except for the obligatory news stories. Yet many here continue to grieve and to struggle with the trauma left by “the beast”. (That’s the name firefighters gave to the inferno,)
For the people of Fort McMurray the fire cannot be forgotten. There are reminders of it everywhere. – Blackened tree trucks and dead wood are everywhere around the city – so it makes forgetting impossible. We live with it. What other choice is there? But I hope that the moments of sheer grief are lessening for my fellow citizens, that there are more moments of joy than of pain. Tree trunks will remain black for years to come, but our hearts need not be.
It is amazing to me how the smallest acts of kindness can mean so much. I was feeling a bit blue this morning for no particular reason, just felt sad. Then my cell phone alerted me to a message. It was from my nephew. A nephew I have not seen for decades, but have spoken with on the phone. He sent me a video to say “you are awesome, and I love you”. It truly made my day. Sometimes the simplest things can make the biggest difference. That message came at a moment when I badly needed it. So, I will pay his kindness forward and hope to make a difference in somebody else’s day. Be kind always, you never know what a difference your seemingly small actions may make.
A thousand feathers lay upon the ground
It may be there were thousands more
I did not stop to count them
But left them to be carried on the breeze
As I hastened on my way
And I wondered as I scurried why
It seemed as though heaven’s angels
Had been stripped of their attire
Perhaps exchanged instead for that of steel
Did they fold their wings around us when we had to flee?
That day hell’s inferno came to be
And flames encircled on every side
Licking at our heels as we sought to leave
Did angels see us through the wall of smoke
Where daylight failed and darkness
Tried to steal
Our hope and faith in all we believed
Yet hell itself cannot succeed
When a thousand feathers lay upon the ground
And angels fly with agile strength
To do battle in our name
Well that date is nearly upon us – that date that I suspect most, if not all, of Fort McMurray has been anticipating with a sense of dread and anxiety. Personally, for myself, I will be glad when the 3rd of May has come and gone. Memories, both sweet and bitter, fill my mind. It’s hard not to relive that day with so many media outlets reminding us daily that the one year mark is quickly approaching. I spent most of March and April dreading the reminders of the most frightening day of my life.
But today I will hold the most treasured memories close to my heart: The calmness and determination of my husband as he drove us out of town, my daughter encouraging me with her strength and dry sense of humour; Hugging my son and his wife when they met us in Anzac with their little dogs dancing in the back seat of their car; The memory of getting text messages from my sister-in-law and my nieces letting me know they all were safe; the memory of running into two young coworkers at a restaurant we’d stopped at during the scramble to get out of the fire-ringed city. How delighted I was to see them and the sheer relief that these two, at least, were safe. Trading news with them of other coworkers and breathing a sigh of relief that most, if not all, were accounted for. The memory of the countless text messages from family and friends offering their support, in every way imaginable. The memories of the abundant kindnesses bestowed upon evacuees and the outpouring of love from across the country. The hugs from fellow citizens and the sincere wishes shared for a safe harbor and to have all needs met.
When push came to shove the ultimate goodness of humanity came to the fore and that is worth remembering and cherishing. Anniversaries of horrid events such as this or the death of a loved one do make us dread certain dates, but in the end it is the love given and received that counts and what buoys us up and helps us to continue on with life. I will always and forever be very grateful for these gifts, given freely and without expectations.
Brilliant, bold, shining
Its iridescent glass globules
Hanging onto the tip of tree branches
Like former icicles when winter’s breath solidified them
Drops of precious moisture
Of life itself
And the robin sits on the top most branch of the birch tree
That has yet to bud
And sings praises to the skies
For the blessed gift of rain
Yesterday at work a coworker told me about the cruel reality of life in Venezuela. Although the nation is purported to be a democratic country, the reality is vastly different. She told me about the lack of food and medication there and of the way the government controls the media, keeping its citizens in the dark as much as possible. Here in Canada we take our freedom for granted. Although many First Nations peoples deal with the struggle with poverty and fight for their rights, they are not shot for protesting (rightfully) the lack of clean drinking water, for example, or the long list of wrongs committed against them, unlike the people of Venezuela. And this is not to slight in any way the experiences of our indigenous peoples. It is simply to point out the gross human rights violations in Venezuela and around the world where the response to peaceful protest is violence. Canada has a long way to go to address the issues facing First Nations groups. Yet, I am grateful to live in a country where food, for the most part, is abundant and medical care, though not without its downfalls, is provided. Living with plenty does not give us a license to turn a blind eye to our indigenous people, nor to the people around the world living in terror as the direct result of tyranny. Today I will pray for peace and for people everywhere to have their needs met. And I will give thanks that I have the choice to be informed about what is happening here at home, and around the world.
It’s been 5 months since my brother Chris died in a horrific and totally preventable car accident. Five months since the day our lives were turned upside down and the world became a foreign, desolate place filled with pain, shock, and disbelief. Five months of struggling and grappling with the reality that Chris no longer lives on this plane of existence. Yet, he does live. He lives in that place where no hurt or pain can touch him. He lives in our hearts and in our memories. He lives every time we reach out in kindness or compassion to others. He lives every time we give of ourselves and attempt to emulate his generosity. Oh yes, he does live. He lives in every memory filled with love and fondness. He lives in and through us, his family members and friends. He touched so many lives and the echo of his life will continue to reverberate as long as we remember the best of him; the inherent goodness, gentleness, and thoughtfulness that made him who he was and who he continues to be. “Oh death where is thy triumph? Where is thy sting?”