Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

Three weeks.

It’s astonishing that it’s only been 21 days – a mere 3 weeks – since over 90,000 people fled the raging wildfire now often referred to as “The Beast”. Somehow time has lost all relevance as lives were dumped upside down and as ashes replaced trees and homes. And yet every Tuesday I somehow remember the day and pause to reflect on the days that have passed since we were driven from our homes.

I refuse to call the wildfire by a name, incidentally. For whatever reason I feel it should be better left as it-who-shall-not-be-named, a malovolent force not deserving a nickname or moniker. It is, to me, just the fire.

And yet it is not “just” anything. It has altered the course of lives for tens of thousands, and it has written a new chapter in the history of our country. It has tested the strength and resiliency of every single person it has touched.

Ring a ring of rosies

A pocket full of posies

Ashes ashes

We all fall down.

That childhood rhyme, sung during games and playtime, is said to have its origins in the time of the Black Death, the great plague that swept Europe and killed millions indiscriminately. This past week the final two lines have played in my head as I began to see the long term effects this traumatic fire has had on those it touched with its flames.

Have you had your falling down moment yet?

The one where you felt the wind knocked out of you, where you could feel the world falling away and where you felt reduced to ashes, just like so many of the beautiful trees that surrounded our community?

I have. 

More than once.

Seeing the photos of the homes of friends, reduced to rubble.

The person in the shop who meant well, but who didn’t seem to understand that asking if my house burned down was a perilous road to travel, whether or not the answer was no or yes.

Seeing the photos of fire fighters who fought so valiantly to save our community, and knowing they risked their lives – and some lost their homes – saving ours.

The phone call from a friend telling me of the tragic accident during the evacuation that stole the lives of two young adults. I had recently met the parents of one.

We all fall down.

I have cried more in the last three weeks than perhaps in my entire life. I have cried until I could not produce another tear, my body simply saying “we have no more water to give to this pursuit”. 

I have, like tens of thousands of others, been glued to social media – and yet I have not turned on the tv once. I could not see my community – my home – reduced to a one-minute news story, when to me, right now, it’s the only story.

It’s the story of every beat of my heart. It’s as all consuming as the fire itself, burning up those weeks and days until it runs out of fuel and has nothing left to burn. And I know it’s approaching that point, when the fire snuffs itself out, as I’ve moved into the next phase.

Getting ready to return.

Cases of water. A new cooler. Supplies of food. Batteries. A flashlight.

And a steely determination to rebuild my community.

We all fall down. 

And then we get up.

Ashes. Ashes will be everywhere, I expect that. We will sweep them up, hose them down, truck them away for disposal. 

We will mourn our losses, feel the sting of homes lost and memories forever altered. We will celebrate our heroes, far too many to name without missing some but each and every one in our hearts forever. 

We will clean up the ashes. And then we will move on.

Those who survived the Black Death went on to rebuild their lives and their communities. There are historians who believe the Black Death gave rise to the Renaissance, a period of rebirth and enlightenment. From the ashes came new life, just as we will see when the first green shoots appear in the middle of blackened fields. 

We have lost so much. But we have been tested and we have found something, too. We have found our courage and our strength.

Life has meaning because of contrast. We only know the light because we have seen the dark. We treasure good because we have seen evil. 

We know we can stand up again because we have fallen down. 

Ashes, ashes

In a few more days we will return to Fort McMurray, and sweep away the ashes. When we fall down, we will lift each other up. We will stand.

United. Undivided. Resolute. Determined.

Because there are things flames can burn, but there are things they cannot touch. And in the last three weeks, we found those things as they rose from the ashes to stand again. Just as we have.

Three weeks ago I wrote that Fort McMurray is the Phoenix. I was wrong. Fort McMurray isn’t the Phoenix.

We are. And we are rising.

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