Life as we know it is history. Without warning, a chapter ended and a new one began - no matter if we approved. I've been trying to prepare myself for a new normal from early after the evacuation but I still held on to the hope that everything could return to the home we know and love - we could repair, rebuild and move on. Which we can and will do, but it won't be the same. I'm having a hard time with that.
I went to the city council meeting this week and felt like the bubble had burst on all that I had hoped for my community. The landscape is going to look vastly, achingly different. Entire neighbourhoods will remain in ruins for an undetermined length of time. Friends will move away. Businesses will close. The bubble burst because I realized that my hopes looked more like naivety. There are many unknowns and an endless mountain of questions - many steeped in fear. There's too much devastation, too much destruction, too much loss, and too much trauma for life to go back to how it was before the wildfire.
The unknown is nerve-racking. It's terrifying to be forced to reevaluate your hopes, plans and dreams. To be suddenly ripped away from all of that you know causes a new sort of heartache that I have not quite experienced before. How do I fend off disappointment and embrace an optimistic expectancy instead?
The good news is that these tough times can also change us for the better. And I will absolutely cling to that hope. I was particularly fond of my cozy cocoon and I'm mourning all the changes right now. It's too much to take in. But... bit by bit, we can help one another to get back up and start anew. When I think that way, it actually sparks a little bit of anticipation over what could be. It's a bizarre balance of preparing oneself for how hard it's going to be and being wonderfully hopeful about the future.
"Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have." - John Piper
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another." Romans 12:15-16
One of the most profound things to me, thus far, is how homesick so many of us have been. Even if we took it for granted, we miss home - the familiarity of our neighbourhood and the routine of everyday life. We all felt it from the moment we were given the evacuation notice. We long to be together - we long to help and lift one another up - we long to be re-connected. We mourn and grieve together, despite our individual experiences and circumstances. We desire to come alongside one another to create a community that is stronger and better than it was before. I hope that desire does not fizzle and fade in the coming weeks.
We may be disconnected now, jostled about in a season of uncertainty, but we will come together again. And even though our bubble of familiarity has burst, and we fear what further hardships are to come, I cling to the hope that there could be something better and more beautiful on the horizon. I suspect we'll look back on this crisis with many stories to tell, much wisdom to share, and a testimony about what community is truly about. As heartbroken as I am for all that I have known to be Fort McMurray, I am curious about what we will become in the months and years ahead of us.
I bet it'll be rather exceptional.
I wish I could have been home to see the very first bit of green burst through the soil. I wanted to see the very moment our rebirth began. This image, of new growth emerging through the piles of ash, has been imprinted in my mind right from the beginning:
Death to life.
Tragedy to triumph.
Sacrifice to rebirth.
Beauty from ashes.
It's been difficult to sift through the events and emotions of the last three weeks. It continues to be an extremely surreal experience - certainly new territory to explore. I've had to push myself to get creative but I know it's good to get back to work. My heart and mind are buzzing with ideas and metaphors, images and words. I am beginning to peel it all back, bit by bit, and begin this new series. Beauty From Ashes will be an exploration of this entire experience*... letting it unfold as it happens. There is much to learn and much to be gleaned. We may be on the cusp of re-entry into our community but this journey has just begun.
*On Tuesday, May 3rd, Fort McMurray, Alberta (along with much of the entire Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo) was under a sudden mandatory evacuation notice as wildfire tore through our community. Nearly 90.000 people were forced to flee and we haven't been allowed home since. Over 2400 structures, most of which are homes, have been destroyed.
Life feels interrupted.
It's amazing the things we take for granted and the importance of normalcy and routine in our lives. It feels like I'm walking around, outside of my life, feeling detached from all that I know. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo received a mandatory evacuation notice on Tuesday, May 3rd, as wildfire raged into our community. The notice came abruptly and we fled the city limits - some as fire licked at them from all sides, with the sight of their homes engulfed behind them. It still feels utterly surreal. There are over 88,000 of us scattered around the province/country now, trying to come to grips with what has happened. We are disconnected from the home we love and choking down the panic that rises up when the reality of our circumstances hits us. Many of us have homes to return to. There are too many that do not. We ache and grieve at the loss and we long to finally wake up from this nightmare. We want to go home.
It is an odd feeling to consider the busy plans of our regular lives and how life doesn't and can't carry on as normal now. Reminders of events and appointments pop up on my phone, chirping of plans we had. Deadlines pass with a sense of disappointment, but the things I looked forward to don't seem to matter any longer. As the days pass I see that even through displacement, many are working to create a new normal. There are still things we can look forward to and hope-filled notice of events that will be rescheduled. I have learned, very quickly, that the needs of people in crisis go far beyond their basic physical needs. Yes, in the immediate days we may need toothbrushes and a change of underwear, but keeping our spirits up is probably the most important of all. We need to move as quickly as possible from the label of "evacuee" to anything else that represents who we really are.
A task that I was particularly looking forward to was the position of guest-editor of NorthWord: A Literary Journal. As guest editor of an upcoming issue, I have the honour of choosing the theme as well as the pieces that will be published. I toiled over choosing the perfect theme, trying to consider a wide variety of writers and styles. And then, it hit me square between the eyes: take a deep breath. I second guessed it and overanalyzed it (as usual), but after affirmation from the President and Managing Editor, I took the plunge. Then I took a deep breath myself. The decision was made.
What I loved about this theme was how many angles it could be approached from. Why are you taking that deep breath? Are in doing it in release or in preparation? The options are endless. And a few days after our evacuation, when random things and random plans popped into my mind, I thought of this theme again... and how that deep breath was rather fitting for all that we have gone through and will continue to go through. It's a daily journey and one that we have to be strong for, long down this road. The deep breath may be one of release, or to brace oneself for all the hardship still to come. It may be one of determination, through gritted teeth, or one after a long gut-wrenching cry. It is both individual and collective.
I have now learned that the intention is to still continue with this issue and although the idea of creating anything felt completely foreign for the first days, I soon found myself yearning for that creative outlet once again. It helped me to write about what I was feeling and going through - so, I extend the invitation to you. Whether you are a seasoned writer, write the occasional poem, or have only thought about putting pen to paper, I invite you to get creating - perhaps even for a therapeutic outlet.
NorthWord accepts a wide variety of writing forms as well as visual artwork. And when you send in your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org, your name is removed before it is sent to me, so you can create with complete freedom and anonymity. Feel free to check out previous issues at https://issuu.com/northwordmagazine if you'd like to see what has been published in the past.
As for the theme, you are completely free to interpret it as you wish.
I miss you, Fort McMurray friends, and I'll look forward to seeing you back at home soon. Keep talking with one another, keep loving on one another. We'll get through this.
Theme: Take a deep breath.
Deadline: October 30, midnight
Email Submissions to: email@example.com