As Christmas draws ever closer my thoughts have turned to gifts, of course. Not gifts for me, but gifts I want for others. Some are the mundane - I buy things like socks and make-up, gift cards and chocolates. Some are gifts I wish for others but money cannot buy - things like better health, or inner peace, or resolution to a life struggle. And some of the gifts I wish for encompass more than the people I know individually. One of these Christmas wishes is for Fort McMurray.
It might seem absurd to have a wish for an entire community, but many people wish for the gift of world peace or an end to hunger, so perhaps it's not that unusual at all. I wish for those things, too, but I wish for something for those a little closer to home. I wish for something for everyone in my community. In fact, that's what I wish for them - a sense of community.
I've been here for a decade now, and over that time I've met people who love it here, call it home, and are proud of it. I've also met those who cannot stand it - who despise it, hate it, malign it, and find themselves miserable here. Sometimes they have been here only a short time - but sometimes they have been here for years. They have found no sense of community, and no sense of their place in it. That saddens me - because it's out there, I promise. They just need to go find it.
In this past year I have found so many different communities here, built around sports and politics and knitting and everything else. I have found so many people passionate about the things they do here, like motocross and roller derby, and the passion they have for those things becomes a passion about their community, too. They find their niche in this city, and that niche leads them to a greater appreciation of the other residents who share their passion. And suddenly they find themselves feeling like a part of not only a niche community but our community as a whole, too.
I've learned there is a place for everyone in our community, from those with great wealth to those who sleep rough on our streets. I discovered that there are communities within our larger community that embrace with open arms those who seek them out - including, in my case, embracing a curious woman blogger. I learned that there was a place for me, even when I wasn't sure where that place was or what it would look like - but I found it.
I met someone new to the city recently - someone who has only been here for a couple of months. She said she hadn't met anyone here who was negative about Fort Mac, and I responded that this didn't surprise me as you likely wouldn't find them at local events and festivals - and that I suspected there was a link. I think it's easy to keep those negative thoughts when you distance yourself from the community - but as soon as you get engaged - volunteer, join a sport, join a club - that distance disappears. And as the distance disappears so does the negativity. And as the negativity goes something replaces it - a sense of community. Positive feelings about the people in the community. A recognition of the problems we face, but an optimism about our ability to face them.
So, my Christmas wish for Fort McMurray - I wish for a sense of community for all who reside here. I wish for them to be able to find their place in this community, and an ability to see that there is a place for everyone in it. The funny thing about this gift, though, is that it's one I cannot give to anyone. Oh, I can write about Fort Mac, and share my story of my life here - but the gift of community is one I cannot bestow. It's a gift that you must give to yourself, and it is perhaps the most precious gift one could ever receive. So, if you are reading this post, and if you haven't found your place in this community yet, spoil yourself this year. Give yourself the most magnificent gift, get involved in our community in whatever way interests you (sport, volunteerism, anything), and receive the gift of being a part of our Fort McMurray family. After all, isn't Christmas all about family? There's a great big one just waiting to embrace you, people - go out there and find it.
I want to thank everyone
for encouraging me,
and for being part of
my community - and part of my
Fort McMurray Family!