Two weeks. 14 days.
It is almost inconceivable that two weeks ago – just 14 days – I drove away from my city as part of the largest mass evacuation in Canadian history. It seems like it was so much longer ago, as the days and nights have run into a blur. And yet if I was asked what I have done in those two weeks it would be difficult to provide a synopsis, as my memory of events gets quite shaky after 6:30 pm on May 3, when I drove through a city in flames.
This is my life, interrupted.
I am, for the most part, a very driven and focused individual. I am the kind of person who gives their all to their job, working late hours, long nights, weekends and holidays – not because it is required of me, but because I love what I do. I am much the same in my personal life, pursuing the things which interest me with a sort of dogged determination. It has never occurred to me that this could be a liability when life takes a turn for the unexpected and the typical flow of my days suddenly, and without warning, just stops.
And it isn’t just my life that has been interrupted, but that of tens of thousands of others who fled Fort McMurray. We are all in the same boat, each of us feeling adrift to some degree and yet sharing a common experience. We are all in this boat, patching the leaks, bailing when the ocean of tears threatens to overwhelm us, and occasionally pulling each other back into the boat when it looks like one of us is about to head overboard.
It is in each other, and the kindness of those from across the nation, that we find our life preserver.
There are things I have come to treasure in the past two weeks:
- the unexpected and random acts and words of kindness from strangers
- the support from organizations and corporations that retain compassion along with their mandates and corporate values
- the simple pleasure of three cats who purr when I am with them and who have adjusted better than their human companion
- the ex-husband and his family who were willing to take on the family dog when it became clear hotel life was not for a senior citizen canine
- the SPCA who rescued two ferrets and a hedgehog, who are now in the care of foster parents and who seem remarkably unaffected by the entire experience
- the remarkable comfort in finding common ground despite differences
- finding safe places to land, like hotels that tolerate the cats and respect the “do not disturb” sign on the door
- the people who run towards a fire to save lives and houses when others are running away (my gratitude for them brings too many tears at this point, and needs a separate post to acknowledge fully)
- and most of all, the love and pure presence of family and friends.
There are things I have come to despise in the past two weeks:
- the way rumours find fuel on social media and feed on fear and worry to grow in size to rival an out of control wildfire
- the way time seems to lose relevance and days of the week become a guess instead of a certainty
- finding the worries of two weeks ago, like my house burning down, replaced with new worries, like my house blowing up
- knowing the people I love are scattered around the country, suspecting each and every one of them is facing the same struggles, and not being able to be there for them in person, relying instead on phone calls and text messages
- that moment at 4 am when I wake up and wonder if maybe, just maybe, this is actually some long extended dream sequence, like some bad television melodrama.
There are things I have come to find uncomfortable:
- sudden sharp noises, like the slam of a gate that made me panic and threw me into almost instantaneous and inexplicable tears
- anything that looks vaguely like smoke, even just dust blowing in the wind
- the smell of smoke, which likely means campfires are out of my future for some time
- signs that contain words like “in case of fire” and accompanied by an image of flames, which now seem far more worrisome than they ever did before.
And there are the things for which I am, quite simply, grateful:
- well, one thing, really – being here at all to tell the tale, and knowing that others made it out alive too.
I am in wonder of those who see this as a sort of unplanned vacation, an opportunity to reconnect, renew and refresh. It is a remarkable attitude, and one I wish I could embrace, but the truth is that is not who I am, and nor who I am ever likely to be. And that’s okay, because for me this is life, interrupted.
There is a great deal of uncertainty. When will the fire end? When will it be deemed safe for us to return? What will I do in the interim? Will I have somewhere to live? And what will I find when I return home?
I am not alone in these questions, and it is in that I find both comfort and sorrow. I wish others were not experiencing this, and yet at the same time I am bizarrely glad I am not alone in these feelings, either. And then there is the guilt for being glad others are experiencing this, too, as if I am some kind of sadist. It is all very wearying.
This is life, interrupted.
In all the uncertainty, I know a few things:
- I know I have let go of so many things I carried, as if they were baggage tossed from my car window as I drove down a highway leaving the city I love behind; baggage like old resentments, anger and failed relationships. Those things are all now sitting in the ditches of Highway 63, and they are the only things I truly hope have been burned to ashes.
- I know I love my friends and family with a ferocity I didn’t even recognize, and I know I have a capacity for forgiveness I did not think in my character.
- I know I have a new-found well of compassion, which I was not lacking before but which has reached entirely new depths
- and I know I will return home as soon as it is safe to do so, feeling right now like the pilot of a circling plane just waiting for clearance from air traffic control to finally land.
I don’t know what I will find when I return, and I realize that this life – life, interrupted – is likely to continue for some time. Maybe forever, as this has forever changed me and forever altered my world, and any normal I find now will be a new one, not the one I knew just over two weeks ago.
And it is in this acceptance that I find something else: hope. Life, interrupted, doesn’t need to be hopeless. It does not mean it will never be good again, just that it will very likely be different. And, as someone who over the course of her life has embraced the unusual, I have often found different to not only be okay, but, in the end, amazing.
This is life, interrupted – but this is also life, starting again.