This week, it is not my own photos I want to share, because I have no pictures of my own to show the story that's been unfolding in my province this week.
It's just after four o'clock in the afternoon as I sit down to type this. The sunshine should be pouring in my window as a beacon of all things springlike and hopeful. Instead, it is barely filtering through a pallid, smokey haze.
While most of the smoke is being generated from wildfires less than 300 km away (that have communities in the area on a Preparedness [to evacuate] Alert), at least some of it has probably filtered over from the eastern half of the province, where one fifth of the city of Fort McMurray is in smoldering ruins.
Watching helplessly from afar as 88,000 of my fellow Albertans had to leave their homes without notice has been a heart-wrenching experience. I am filled with gratitude that there was no loss of life and amazement at the way Albertans have stepped up and banded together to help each other during this crisis. As I have watched the saga unfold, I have cried more than a few times at the stories of courage, bravery, and compassion, as people have given of themselves and their finances to help in any way they can.
On a map, Alberta seems like a big place--it's bigger than Texas, and I'm pretty sure we could fit several European countries in our landmass. But when it comes to community, we're a small province after all. Since Fort McMurray is a destination city for work in this province (and this country!), most of us know people who live, or at least work, there.
In the current economic downturn, there are several Peace River families that I know of that had the husband travelling to Fort McMurray to work, despite it's location on the other side of the province. Even when prices are low, Fort Mac is still able to provide oil-field jobs to those qualified. Or it was.
Now, the thousands of families that made Fort Mac their permanent home are in temporary shelters, being billeted out, staying with family or friends, and basically scattered throughout the province. Watching footage of lines of cars weaving down highways with blazing infernos on either side leaves me even more in awe that every person was protected. Yes, many of them lost their homes, as entire neighbourhoods in the city were devastated by fire. But they. got. out.
As a culture, we are addicted to stories--one could even argue that it's a species-wide addiction. Whether huddled around a campfire, the coffee pot, or our T.V., we connect through story. Fiction or non, stories entertain, educate, encourage, and inspire. Stories define us. Stories shape what we believe. And stories bond us together.
The most moving stories are the true ones. Like the people roving up the highway to Fort McMurray from Edmonton with food, gas, and water, giving them away for free to people waiting in 4-hour line-ups at gas stations who've run out of fuel, and only accepting "Pay it forward" as a payment.
Or the Syrian Refugees who only arrived in Canada five months ago who are rallying support, giving away what little they have to help their new fellow countrymen, because they know what it's like to lose all you have. Or the restaurants comping meals for the Fort Mac "refugees". Or dozens more stories like this that have been circulating on social media the last several days.
The overarching theme has been how we are all doing what we can to help those in need, or those on the ground dealing with the crisis.
Stories matter. But stories like this--that show real humans being brave and loving and compassionate--they are what matter most.
My dad always said that Canada was the best country in the world to live in, and Alberta was the best province to live in.
Thank you, Alberta, for proving him right this week.
I pray for rain, not only for Fort McMurray, but for the other communities around Northern Alberta and BC that are being threatened by wildfires.
And I thank God that, in the midst of crisis, we are #albertastrong.