The place that powers a large segment of our economy. The place that produces 8% of the greenhouse gas of our nation. The place that provides high-paid employment for Canadians from all regions of the country. Love it or hate it, Fort McMurray matters to Canada.
On Tues. May 3, 2016 a wildfire shifted direction, the wind whipped up and the entire city of Fort McMurray came under threat. Within hours an evacuation order went out. 88,000 residents fled their homes. Some went north to the oil camps. Those who could went south toward Edmonton. There is only one road in and out of the city. It was a nightmare scenario. Yet in the midst of it all came the good news stories.
A good Samaritan drove his ATV up and down the shoulder of the packed highway offering free gas to those who had run out.
Another generous soul walked the line of cars handing out coffee, muffins and water. With only a few hours notice, the tiny town of Lac La Biche, pop. 2500 took in over 10,000 evacuees, providing showers, food, clothing, toiletries and a place to sleep.
beyond the call of duty to see that everyone was safe. They even went door to door when they could rescuing pets. Pet rescue groups set up shelters, provided food and helped reunite hundreds of pets with distraught owners. Airlines waived their rules and let dogs and cats ride in the cabin as thousands of residents were air lifted to larger centres.
People from across the country united in sending aid to their stricken fellow-citizens. The Canadian red cross has collected an unprecedented $86 million dollars in ten days, donations from ordinary citizens, sports teams, institutions, service clubs, and corporations. One heart warming story concerns a five year old boy who set up a lemonade stand at the mall. He collected $2500.00, all of it for Fort Mac. Even Syrian refugees, in this country for only a few weeks themselves, pitched in, giving what they could, wanting to help. The good news stories go on and on. In the midst of disaster
people across the country showed compassion, generosity, hospitality, kindness, patience. In fact, you could make a list of the fruits of the Spirit and find a story to go with each one. No doubt, when the smoke clears, we'll go back to complaining about this government decision or that one, sniping that one region, or one interest group got unfair advantage, but I hope that our collective sense of ourselves lingers and, as a nation, we exhibit more kindness and understanding with each other.
It strikes me that our personal growth follows the same pattern as this national disaster. When we are at our most desperate, we call out to God and He hears us. For a little while, broken, needy, despairing, we put our trust in God. Our faith is strengthened. For a little while we "know" that Jesus loves us. Then, life gets back on track, we become self-absorbed again, we believe we've rescued ourselves. God becomes a benign Being we mostly ignore.
I heard a story once of a clergyman late for a meeting in a big city. He couldn't find a parking place and the clock was ticking. In desperation he prayed. "Please God, give me a parking space and I'll double my weekly offering." Immediately a car pulled away from the curb. The clergyman shouted "Never mind, God. I found one."
I don't wish disaster on anyone, personally or collectively. I'm one who wishes to avoid tears and rain. I much prefer joy and sunshine. Yet I know that hardship calls forth our better selves. It seems we don't grow, physically, emotionally or in faith, without pain. There is a reason God gave us all the emotions, not just the happy ones.
As I pray for the people of Fort McMurray, I give thanks for the courage and perseverance of the fire fighters, the police, and
paramedics. I give thanks for the kindness of strangers. I give thanks that no lives were lost to the fire, although two people died in a car crash during the evacuation. Like Elijah, I ask God to send the rain. I ask for courage, strength and hope for all those displaced by the fire.
And I pray that we remember our better selves when the crisis is passed.
Alice Valdal lives in Beautiful British Columbia, Canada where she looks out at the ocean, green trees and rose bushes in bloom, while trying to wrap her mind around the tragedy that has befallen her fellow citizens.