Temporary Calgarian

We have been living the evacuee life in Calgary for 11 days.  Our community of Fort McMurray is being scoured over by hundreds of workers trying to restore essential services, clean the hospital, and eliminate all safety risks related to the devastation that was wrought on May 3rd and 4th.  None of us really knows when we'll be allowed to go back, though most of us have an opinion.  All you have to do is ask.

We are reminded of our community's circumstance almost everywhere we go.  Fundraising efforts surround us in large centres and small.  News outlets continue to cover different angles of this incredible story.  And slowly - ever so slowly - we are beginning to run into others who have been cradled by Calgary.

"Is that Russell?" I heard behind me in a super-sized Walmart in the NW.

"Russell?"  I turned around and saw a husband, wife and three children.

I must have looked like a deer in the headlights as I didn't recognize them.

"We're from Fort McMurray," they said, sharing the fact that they were out of the city when the fire forced us out.  In that respect, they were spared the horrifying images that thousands saw as they were running the fiery gauntlet through town.

I am grateful that I was able spend quality time with John Evans and Stephen Bryant in the past few days.  John is on the United Way board; Stephen is Executive Director of the Centre of Hope.  I think it's healthy to talk things out about what we went through and what we're going through in the aftermath.  Bottling things up inside isn't going to do any of us any good.

"How are you?" asked Heather when she returned from a 5-day course in Edmonton.  It was not the normal, run-of-the-mill "How are you?", it was the weighted and serious, I-wonder-if-you-are-holding-it-together, "How are you?"

"I'm good," I answered after giving it some thought.  I really am fine, though like everyone else, I have my moments.  I was driving the other day, listening to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talking about our community when I started crying.  I seem to have a tearful moment at least once a day.

"I think I talked it all out in those media interviews," I said to Heather.  In the day and days following our exodus, I must have done over 20 interviews.  After I posted the painting of Chief Darby Allen, I probably did an additional dozen or more.  They all blur together.

I'm strangely enjoying wearing donated jeans and shirts.  I'm loving my deepening relationship with the city of Calgary - it truly is a beautiful place.  And I am grateful for the home we get to share with Michael, Kathryn and their two children.

Spending weeks here is going to enable renewed connections.  Yesterday, the boys and I drove to Okotoks to have a visit with Sarka and her daughters, Sadie and Gabbie.  Sarka and I were part of a small group of friends in Stettler in the mid-1990s.  The last time I saw her was a decade ago when I popped into her toy store in that community for a short visit.

There are a lot of Kamsack people in the Calgary area, and several have reached out to arrange visits and meals.  I'm not sure how long we're going to be here, but we're going to soak up as much of this connection and care as possible.

Dylan and Ben are doing well.  We are doing our best to get them out and about doing things.  We were treated to an outstanding production of Goodnight Desdemona (Good morning Juliet) at Vertigo Theatre to kick off the weekend.  They are also spending lots of hours playing pool, as Mike and Kathryn have a nice table in the basement.  They, like us, are longing to return home, but doing their best to make the best of our time here.

We are all processing what has happened and striving for balance.  I think we're getting there.  But, the fact is that we will continue to have our moments and flashes of memory that will take us back to the fire.  The following image popped up in a video that I saw yesterday.

I had left the gridlock of Highway 63 using the gravel road behind this neighbourhood grocery store.  This was the state of the first at the time.  I didn't think to take a picture myself; I was too much in survival mode.  When I got on to the flow of traffic on Gregoire Drive, I went a block or so and turned into the Greely Road School parking lot to figure out what I needed to do next.


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