I think one of the most telling moments for me since June 3rd was driving down Franklin Avenue, a drive I have taken thousands of times in the last 15 years, and spotting a truck emblazoned with a slogan that included the words “disaster recovery”. Both words, ones I never would have thought of before in connection to my community, were so very impactful and compelling as they described what happened on May 3rd, and what has been happening ever since.
The wildfire that drove tens of thousands from Fort McMurray on May 3rd was, by any measure, a disaster. While 90% of our community still stands, the 10% that was devastated consisted primarily of residential properties, with a few businesses mixed in. Entire neighbourhoods were virtually razed, and subsequent to the fire the presence of toxic residues in the ash has prevented even those with standing homes in those areas from returning there to reside.
And the truth is that if you have lived in our community for any length of time, you know someone who has been impacted in those areas.That this disaster has affected each and every one of us in some way is unquestionable, but our experiences range widely, separated only by the very thin line of where our house or business happened to be. That we have experienced a disaster is without doubt, although it is difficult to accept that your city, the home of almost every person you love on this planet, is also home to a disaster.
But while the word “disaster” caught my eye it was the word “recovery” that has started me on a thoughtful path since my return home. It is all those words beginning with “re” that we are seeing now, and all they mean is beginning to become clear.
Of course those are the four most commonly seen and considered, but I have been thinking of some other ones, too:
Someone asked me recently if life in my community – my life – is back to normal. I responded that is not the normal I knew before May 3, but a new normal, or perhaps, more accurately, a renewed normal.
One of the first things I noted on my return to Fort McMurray was the appearance of green grass where just weeks before I had seen flames. And this grass is not just green, but a brilliant lime-green shade so vibrant it seems almost as surreal as the red-orange flames that preceded it. The grass has not just returned, but it has been renewed, coming back in the most incredibly bright and colourful way.
Crises happen in our lives. That is just a simple fact, whether they are wildfires, illnesses, accidents, deaths, divorces…they are as myriad as we are. And after every crisis there are the practical and pragmatic considerations, the rebuilding and recovery phases; and so too there are the softer considerations, the opportunities to reflect, reaffirm, rethink, revision, and, yes, renew.
Change can be very frightening – terrifying, in fact. I have been through it more than once, life altering changes where you simply don’t know if you will be the same person coming out that you went in, like you’ve entered some sort of machine created by science fiction designed to alter who you are. And, the truth is, you probably won’t be the same.
But swap out one single consonant and “change” becomes “chance”, an opportunity to redefine and reawaken. We can do this with ourselves, and with our communities. We can take the crisis that changed us and make it into one that gave us a chance to do something we otherwise may never do: experience renewal.
Ever been very ill, with a virus so nasty you simply felt like all that was healthy had been snuffed out of you? And then remember how as you got better you suddenly felt alive again, almost better than ever and like your brush with sickness had somehow reminded you of all that was good about life and everything around you? Like you had been somehow renewed by going through something painful and difficult and awful?
Yes. Renewal. A renewed normal, in fact, not like you were before, not necessarily worse or even better – just different.
The current buzzword in our community is resilience, the ability to come back quickly from adverse circumstances. Resilience, though, is not contingent on forgetting. In fact, part of what contributes to resilience is our ability to remember and recognize what we have experienced, allowing it to form our resolve to move ahead. The leaders who will emerge from this crisis will be the ones who can put aside personal, professional and political differences to remember and recognize while resolving to move into the future, unencumbered by the shackles of past conflicts. They will embrace resilience, and exemplify it.
When I went through my divorce a few years ago there was one song I kept returning to. It spoke to me on so many levels, because it was about moving on. It was about learning to do all the things I did before, realizing things might have changed and I might have changed but that I was resilient because I recognized and remembered what I had been through. I was renewed.
I have been so very fortunate. I know the journey I am on is different from that of others in my community; it is however my journey all the same and the path I must travel, even though it will be different from the one others will follow.
And I know my life in Fort McMurray may not be the normal it was before May 3, but it is a new normal. A renewed normal.
And that, my friends, is okay.
In fact, it may be for me the very definition of resilience.