Lessons from the Fire
I was racing through my house
grabbing items that I thought were
of value, wracking my brain trying
to think of what I was missing.
The fire was coming and we were going to be
trapped. No one in Fort McMurray thought this
was possible, and yet the radio blared out in
a mechanical voice, “THIS IS A MESSAGE FROM
THE ALBERTA EMERGENCY ALERT. A MANDATORY
EVACUATION IS NOW EXTENDED TO THICKWOOD,
DICKENSFIELD . . .” and on.
I went from calm and collected to survival
mode in the span of 30 seconds.
This feeling of having your world altered in
such a violent and unstoppable way can be
debilitating. One of the strongest feelings I
had was of how helpless we were to stop this
“Beast” that was tearing through our city.
A couple of months have now passed, and the
feelings have largely subsided, so I can reflect on how
this has changed the city I live in. Isn’t it interesting
how you look back on your life and talk about things
that happened before something and after something?
Life before the fire and after the fire.
In some ways, it serves as a magnifying glass on how
we were living before. We realize how much we took for
granted. After the—insert your traumatic event here—
we care more about our friends, family, and neighbours.
We take a big picture approach to the irritating inconveniences
of our daily routines. Now, it doesn’t seem such
a big deal when the driver in front of us doesn’t signal
before cutting us off. Our general capacity for patience
and generosity grows, and we find people are more likeable
than they were before.
One of the roles of the union is to help remove some of
the irritations of the daily work routine from the workplace.
What I noticed before the fire was that many
workplaces I visited focussed on the very negative
aspects of those irritations. And to be sure, there were
legitimate gripes in many cases. But for the members
experiencing the situation, it often became a personal
attack, which soured the relationship between them
After the fire, that same irritation seemed different.
Sure, it still existed, but it didn’t seem like something
worth putting a whole lot of negative energy into.
Shoot, we’re all just trying to do our jobs and get along;
there are bigger things in life that matter more. We
can figure out a way to solve this without damaging
relationships along the way. And management often
seemed to feel that way too.
I have no doubt that this new-found graciousness will
not last forever. We are human and tend to forget the
lessons of the past until we are taught them again.
My hope for those of us who went through the fires
is that we keep that lesson close at hand, and remain
gracious and generous toward each other far into the
future. It’s just a far better way to live and work.