When she was a small child, I would worry on occasion about many things; and one of the things I occasionally fretted over was her small social circle, as she was quite picky about her friends and tended to have few.
There is no doubt she was a bit different from other little girls her age; while they played with dolls her preference was to disappear into her room for hours, emerging once she had completed her latest Lego or Playmobil masterpiece. It was clear quite early on that she had a grasp of certain scientific principles most children don’t grasp until far later (and that some adults, like me, struggle with for most of their life). She was interested in string theory and the riddle of Schrodinger’s cat, space travel and time hops. And she had a dark and cynical sense of humour from an early age, unusual for most children I think (where she inherited that, I clearly have NO idea).
And while she had friends, to me it seemed they were more friends of convenience than of choice; they were “better-than-having-no-friends” friends, good kids but ones she had little in common with and with whom she shared few interests.
The hard truth is that she was, in every sense, a lot like me.
Finding your tribe isn’t always easy. This is particularly true when you are, perhaps, a bit different from the norm and don’t quite fit into where fate has placed you as a child. For me, it was the challenge of being an unsophisticated kid who got plopped into a new school in Grade 6, where all the other kids were savvy and street smart and, frankly, keen to bully anyone not like them.
I found friends along the way – good ones – but it took me a long time to find my tribe.
And so it was for her, even when she chose to leave Fort McMurray to finish high school in Calgary, a move in which I thought she may finally find her tribe. And she found friends there, as I knew she would, but it wasn’t until she started university this past fall and sent me this picture that I knew it had finally happened:
She had found her tribe, in a group of engineering students who share so much in common despite their differences, who speak the same language of science and math and who are building a community despite coming to their campus from across the country and even the world; and it was so familiar, because almost two decades ago, after years of searching, I found my tribe.
One could also call it my community, I suppose. For it was when I moved to Fort McMurray Alberta – and when I allowed it to begin to move me – that I found my tribe, people who spoke the same language of home, belonging and community. We came from every corner of the planet to build homes, lives, communities and a tribe.
In 2016, a few months after the devastating wildfire that struck our region, I considered leaving Fort McMurray. I don’t think I am alone in this; many contemplated this choice, and some did in fact choose to move on. But for me, it was something I could simply not find it in my heart or head to do, as I had found my tribe here. These were the people who were in my life by choice, not just by chance; this was the place where I found every time I gave to it, it gave back to me tenfold.
How do you know when you have found your tribe? I suppose it is like I always told her. If you have to try too hard to fit in, then they might be a good tribe, but they might not be your tribe. If you feel you are losing a sense of yourself to become part of them, then they are probably not your tribe. If they do not make you want to be better and do better, then they may not be your tribe. And if it feels too much like work, if it does not feel natural and right and comfortable, then you may not yet have found your tribe.
That she has found her tribe cannot be doubted. It is in every tale she tells, every photo she sends, every laugh in her voice when she calls; it took some time, but her tribe – her community – is clear.
And so it is for me, too. Despite the challenges, the flaws, the failings, the moments when I roll my eyes at some of my tribal companions or when, for a fraction of a second I am tempted by the call of other places, I know I have found my tribe. It’s not that it’s perfect, it’s not that it’s utopia, and it’s not that it’s never -45 degrees Celsius (!). It is that for whatever reason, this is the place where I fit in, and where I have found the tribe I have spent my life searching for.
The funny thing about tribes, though, is that over your life they can change. New interests, new opportunities and new challenges are around every corner, and sometimes a new tribe awaits. But when you find your tribe – when you find the place where you don’t have to work to fit in, where you all speak the same language (and by that I don’t mean English, but the language of community, commitment and cohesion) and where you feel at home, you savour every moment, because the right tribe – your tribe – doesn’t come along every day.
Currently she revels in her new tribe, in their shared language and interests and common traits; and one day she may move on to a new tribe, but she will never forget this tribe or her allegiance to them.
And so I think it is with Fort McMurray, as once this tribe has claimed you and you have claimed it, it stays with you forever, no matter where you go or how long you are gone.
All my old worries from long ago are laid to rest; I am so very glad she has found her tribe.
And you know, I am glad I have found mine, too, in this northern point on the planet where the rivers flow, the forests grow and the northern lights dance, almost as if to a tribal song.
This is my tribe. And I cannot imagine a better tribe to which to belong.