The Fire

It has been exactly two years since I loaded up my vehicle with canvases and paint and headed out to the Mark Amy Treatment Centre to do a workshop.  It was a beautiful morning, warm and blue, very very blue.  While not quite as warm in 2018, it is shaping up to be a beautiful day.

For the tens of thousands of us who experienced the fire in 2016, those two words will always have a place in our lexicon: The Fire.  I did a workshop this week with students who live in one of the most devastated neighbourhoods.  I took them through the "Story of your life" painting workshop, where they created an abstract painting depicting things like their earliest memory, favourite toy, and best day.  They also painted a single solitary line that contained the bad days, as a way of honouring the fact that the tough times we have experienced are a part of who we are today.  Many of them referenced The Fire as being one of their bad days.

The students spoke of The Fire as a living, breathing entity from their past. They spoke of toys, dolls and stuffies that were lost, each choking up, ever so slightly, as they gave voice to their loss.

I have done two media interviews this morning, one with CJME in Regina and another with the CFWE Radio Network here in Alberta.  I was able to share with both that the rebuild is about 20-percent done.  Over 500 homes and living units are done - less than I would have guessed, but still significant progress when you consider the complexities of recovering from the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.  I was also able to acknowledge the mental health aspects of The Fire.  Mental health referrals are still sky rocketing. Effects of PTSD, depression, divorce and financial stress are prevalent.   Mental health, mindfulness, and self-care are still front and centre in workplaces and homes.

As I reflect on my own journey, transitioning from working for United Way to being a full-time artist, it feels like every second client suffered a total loss in the fire.  A lot of people are rebuilding and redecorating; I'm honoured that some are looking to me to add some colour to their new homes.

May 3rd, 2016 is stamped in my memory.  New micro details pop up every once in awhile, little nuggets of recall that help complete the puzzle of a day that became absolutely chaotic and catastrophic.

What are we left with?  Gratitude...for sure.  The kindness of strangers will always be the main storyline of that time.  We are also left with a community that is battered yet intact, a community that is moving forward, together.


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