Although the news was sadly expected, my initial reaction was unanticipated.
Instead of the sorrow and grief I thought I would feel, there was another emotion in their place.
White hot, blinding and seething rage.
Bo Cooper, the young firefighter who brought out the very best in our community, who fought as valiantly as one can fight, our very Unbreakable Bo, gone after his long war with cancer ended.
And my first response was rage.
Over the last few months I have been able to work through much of the anger I have experienced. Anger over the loss of two young adults during the evacuation; anger over the loss of so many homes; anger over an inanimate act of nature that took on a persona as it stole so much from my community.
But I had never gotten past the anger over one thing.
Earlier this spring when Bo’s cancer had gone into remission, plans began for a hero’s welcome, a homecoming befitting someone who had drawn an entire community together. We had become Bo’s Army, many of us tied to each other by only two things: that we call this place home, and that we stood with Bo. We had watched every part of his fight, checking the Facebook page of his journey daily to see how he was doing, feeling relief when he was improving and worry when things were not going as well.
But when he left the hospital to return home, it was with a sense of triumph that the plans began. Bo had won the battle, although all knew the war was not over. Bo was coming home, and it was time for a moment in the sun when he could come together with his army, when they could welcome him home with open arms and he could see the strength of the army he had inspired.
The tentative date for this celebration, Bo’s welcome and homecoming?
May 4, 2016.
When I fled this community on May 3, 2016, many things weighed heavy on my mind; Bo’s triumphant homecoming being delayed was one of them. But I took courage in the belief that it would just be postponed for a day or so, certain we would be back home soon and could then celebrate with our hero.
It was not to be.
You see, my anger when I heard the news today was because this is not the way the story should have ended.
Bo should have had his hero’s welcome, and then he should have gone to his home with his wife to live a long and happy life, and none of our town should have been lost in a wildfire and life should have been simple and good.
But you don’t always get to write the ending.
I don’t know why some of us are granted longer on this earth than others. There is no sense of fair play at work here, no equality of being; some of us get lucky, and some of us get robbed.
Bo got robbed, of his life and of the happy ending he should have had. He got robbed of that homecoming and that moment in the sun.
There are people who change the world without even trying or knowing they are doing it. Bo Cooper is one of them, because what Bo inspired in this community was unlike anything I had ever really seem before. We rallied together for one person, one young man facing a tremendous battle; we felt deeply connected because of him alone.
Bo reminded us of what is best about each of us, and about each other. Perhaps, in some strange sense, the fight to save Bo prepared us for what came next, a life-altering event that demanded we be there for each other in ways we never had before. Maybe, just maybe, the lessons we learned as we became Bo’s Army were the ones we needed when we had to become an army of survivors.
Bo didn’t get his homecoming on May 4th. I will always feel anger over that, and of all the fire took, perhaps it is that one thing that will never be forgiven in my mind.
But perhaps there is a way we can still give Bo that homecoming. Perhaps it is as simple as engaging in acts of kindness for each other. It doesn’t need to be a huge gesture; something small is just as significant as something grand. Just acts of kindness, and when you commit these acts do one simple thing: tell yourself that this is because of Bo.
Let Bo’s triumphant homecoming be each and every one of us working to be kind to each other as we continue to fight our own battles in this community. Let the strength and courage we found being part of his army become the strength and courage we need to keep moving forward.
Let Bo’s homecoming be us memorializing his life in our acts of kindness to each other.
Let us honour Bo Cooper, one young man who fought so long and so hard, by allowing his journey to turn us into better people, and a stronger community.
Let that be Unbreakable Bo’s legacy: a community forever changed by one man, and by the kindness he inspired in all of us.
My deepest sympathies to Bo’s wife, family, friends and colleagues.