Thank you : Thoughts from a Fort McMurray Fire Viking Warrior

It is a simple email.

It originates from the contact form on this website, and all it really says is “thank you for sharing and writing your experience after the fire this past year – you helped me to find my way through it, too”.

It is one of a few of these I have received, thanking me for writing about my journey and my feelings since May of last year, but these kind people have it all wrong. I am not the one who should be thanked.

It’s them.

My friends, today I am consumed not by thoughts of fire and fear, but of complete and profound gratitude. It’s the kind of gratitude that makes my eyes well up with tears and my head hurt a bit as I try to keep them from spilling over. It’s the kind of gratitude that humbles me in the deepest way, because I know my ability to navigate the past year has been due entirely to others.

It has taken me some time to admit that at various points over the last year – far too many, in fact – I felt overwhelmed. While my personal losses due to the fire were slight, the losses I saw that impacted friends, colleagues and this community hit me far harder than I anticipated.

And so I did what I do, and I wrote it out. The fear, the anger, the uncertainty, the lingering sense of being smoke damaged in every way; when I could I blurted it out onto a keyboard and then sent it into space with the click of the “publish” button.

Sharing my journey has been incredibly healing for me. If it has been of benefit to anyone else, then I am the one who is thankful, as then it means that I have been some small part of helping others to heal, too.

A long time ago I learned the power of words. I learned you can use words to hurt or to heal, to provoke rage or to inspire hope. I made a pledge to always be careful in the manner I used words, because I knew they carried power. I came to understand that words can be a sword used to fight wars, both just and unjust.

Today, as I reflect on gratitude and the power of words, I know the time has come for some long overdue words of thanks.

Thank you to the first responders; firefighters, RCMP, bylaw, sheriffs – You saved my city. I have no doubt of that, and my gratitude cannot be expressed in simple words. I hope it shows in my eyes whenever I see you, because I know it shines in my heart. When I walk the Birchwood Trails, just a block from my home, I think of you and how you fought for all of us. And I always will.

Thank you to the unsung heroes – The municipal workers who stayed behind, the REOC team, municipal government, the industry partners, the camps, the businesses, the essential service personnel; without all of you we would not have seen this community come back to life.

Thank you to “the helpers” – The Canadian Red Cross, the United Way and every single local social profit organization, their boards, their teams and their leaders; they have been absolutely critical and integral and I appreciate all they have done and will continue to do.

Thank you to those who helped me rescue two ferrets and a hedgehog – On that day in May I was forced to leave my caged pets behind, never for a moment believing I would end the day having to evacuate the city completely. My gang was rescued by bylaw, the SPCA and other volunteers, and while I was evacuated kind strangers kept them safe for me until I could reunite with them. My entire fur family and I are so grateful.

Thank you to my friends – You made me laugh, you made me smile, you made me remember that life is good and goes on and that there are people around me who make everything better. I love all of you – you are the family I was not born into, but was lucky enough to find.

Thank you to members of local media – You told the stories of our community with compassion, with understanding and with kindness. And many of you lived through the experience beside the rest of us; I am so very thankful for all you do, and to consider myself your colleague.

Thank you to my family – I have four sisters, along with their families. I love them dearly, as they know me well enough that over the past year they simply let me be, forgiving the lack of phone calls and emails as they allowed me to heal.

Thank you to my colleagues – You will never, ever know or understand how much being part of our team has meant to me this year. Through all the challenges, the tough moments and the good moments, the fun and the work, there we were: together, making a difference every day. And that meant everything.

Thank you to my daughter – You are the reason I do everything and anything. You give me the strength and courage to get up every day.

Thank you to the kindness of strangers – You offered me everything from gasoline and food to a place to stay, shoes to cat food. Your incredible kindness and generosity and simple purity of heart and sincerity will always, always humble me beyond words.

Thank you to this province and country – I have always been proud to be Canadian. I have never been prouder of this country and province than during the past year when I saw my fellow citizens reach out to us time and time again. Your support is how we got through any of this, and I know I am so very grateful for it.

Thank you to my fellow community members – You inspired me every single goddamn day. You got up and went to work or sifted through the ashes of your home or fought with your insurance company or drove your kids to school or went to a baseball practice. You lived, you shared, you just kept going. I am so honoured to simply be among you, let alone be one of you.

On May 5, 2016, I sat down in a hotel room in Edmonton and hammered out the very first real blog post on this website. I sat there, surrounded by three unsettled cats and one anxious dog, crying while I wrote. I had barely slept since the night of May 2, and I had not bothered to shower, dress, eat or think. I was living in terror of what was happening to my community, and I poured out the entire shaky story.

Just hours later, on one of those contact forms from this site, came an email from a stranger in Toronto. She told me I was a gorgeous writer – but more importantly she used the words that would get me through the past year:

You are a fucking Viking warrior.

I read her email once, and then again. I didn’t feel like a warrior, let alone a Viking. I felt hollow, and empty, and sad and afraid and uncertain.

I read her email a third time.

Then I huddled the animals in the hotel bathroom with me. I took a shower and washed off the smoke and the sweat and the tears, and when I emerged I picked up my sword that looks suspiciously like a keyboard and I began writing again.

And I haven’t stopped, and every single time over the past year when I felt like stopping anything – writing, working, thinking, feeling – I told myself I am a fucking Viking warrior.

And I picked up my sword, and continued the fight for myself, my community and our future.

And this warrior thanks you, every single one of you, for reading. It means more to me than you will ever, ever know.

Signed,

 From one Viking warrior to another.

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