When a wildfire with the nickname “Beast” roars through your hometown, even the most optimistic person can feel a little lost. I was left feeling ungrounded and vulnerable, like a balloon being battered in a wind storm. After a week of shock, I found myself inspired by the indomitable spirit of my community, and felt compelled to reclaim my life.
Luckily, being a self-help author, I was very familiar with finding the rainbow in the storm. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, even if I can’t always understand the “why”. So I began searching for buried treasure amongst the shipwreck, and what I found were five unexpected gifts that I will cherish for a lifetime.
1. Liberation over Devastation
Being evacuated from Fort McMurray was a devastating experience: Looking back at a thick plume of smoke in my rearview mirror, wondering what would be left of my hometown upon my return. With nothing but my laptop and a suitcase full of clothes to my name, my devastation evolved into an unexpected sense of liberation as I recalled a Buddhist quote: “to free yourself from suffering, free yourself from attachments.”
Despite my desire to live a simpler life with less attachments to my possessions, people, and expectations of how life “should be,” my good intentions were always overruled by the convenience of having all the things I enjoyed. During the mandatory evacuation of my home, I was forced to cut the ties of attachment and fully accept what I had. This gave me a sense of freedom, and my suffering subsided.
2. A Fresh Perspective
Until you are faced with a real disaster, simple inconveniences in life can feel like the world’s biggest emergencies. When you have 15 minutes to collect your most precious valuables, you realize that things are replaceable, and what is truly important are the people you love, your health, and your memories. Those are for keeps. And in a real-life crisis, I realized it was all I needed to survive.
After surviving the #YMMFires I can look back and laugh at the things that once stressed me out. It all seems so trivial now, and that is a gift that will keep on giving as I move forward in my life.
3. Appreciation and Realization
I practise gratitude daily, but even I failed to recognize the significance and luxury of having my own home, filled with things that make me comfortable. I didn’t always appreciate having running water, and an unlimited supply of food at the local grocery store. I didn’t value the services that were all around me, such as store clerks, receptionists, and other employees that contributed to the well-oiled machine that was Fort McMurray.
As my husband returns to help rebuild our town, he will be staying in a hotel without staff or clean bedding, with limited food and water, and poor air quality in town. I will never take these things for granted again as I am reminded of the many people around our planet who have even less luxury than this in their countries.
4. Faith in Humanity
The only thing I have found more powerful and overwhelming than the YMM wildfire itself, is the generosity of strangers that I have encountered since our evacuation. From tanker trucks giving away fuel to fleeing vehicles on Highway 63, free meals at Earls, free accommodations at The Holiday Inn, 75% discounts at Bootlegger clothing stores, and major donations from across the country to Red Cross, one thing has been made abundantly clear: we are not alone.
As we all fled for our lives, there was a heavy feeling of helplessness, hopelessness and separation. The unbelievable outpouring of love and support from complete strangers brought happy tears to my eyes, and gave me the will to keep pushing on. I felt the strength of the thousands who were sending their love, prayers and financial support. It wasn’t just the big donations that gave me comfort, it was the $1 donations being given at H&M as I shopped, or the special Wild Rose donuts being sold at Tim Horton’s. Everywhere I turn there is support and love, and that is a feeling I cannot express in words. It has made the difference in this experience. I am profoundly grateful to everyone for giving what they could, even if it was just an inspiring message on Facebook. It was life-changing.
5. Proof of Personal Power
I believe that we are only ever as strong as we need to be, so when the going gets tough, the best in us comes out. I have seen a strength arise in everyone who has evacuated our great city; our will has been tested but not broken. Like the flexible branches of bamboo, we have shown a resiliency and ability to adapt to the challenges that have faced us. This proves to me without a shadow of a doubt that when we return to our homes, and it is time to rebuild, we will find our strength in numbers and our city will rise up, like a phoenix from the ashes.
Darkness does not destroy light, it simply defines it. Similarly, this disaster has not destroyed the beauty of Fort McMurray, it has redefined it. The love and passion we all share for Fort McMurray only cries louder from our hearts, and our appreciation for all that it has provided to us has been highlighted exponentially.
I believe this fire has given us ample life lessons that will serve us all for a lifetime, and has given us an impeccable opportunity to rebuild a bigger and better Fort McMurray.
Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. We are Fort McMurray Strong.
Sending love, courage and healing to all affected, and gratitude to everyone else,