I had this happen once when I met a journalist from Laramie, Wyoming, a place most often associated with the horrific torture and murder of a young gay man. And it happened again recently when Toddske of YMMPodcast contacted me, because someone had reached out to him and said "you are not alone".
It all happened after Toddske appeared on a popular podcast known as SmodCo. I guess he had talked about our community and our challenges, and someone heard him. That someone knew a bit about the frustration he was expressing, because they encountered it, too - but they are from a little further afield. Wise County, Virginia, in fact, a place far south in geography, and likely far different from Fort Mac in many ways - but similar, too.
Wise County has a long history of coal mining, an industry that has attracted much of the same negative media attention the oil sands has. It also happens to be in the Appalachians, and when you say that name certain images spring to mind - hillbillies, and moonshine, and banjos. Except of course that we in Fort Mac know all too well about stereotypes and those "images". We know them to be false, and to be stereotypes cast upon us by others from outside. We know that our communities hold so much more than what is portrayed or believed of us, and we have this burning desire to share that with the world.
And that is why Alyssa of Wise County reached out to Toddske. I suspect she saw a "kindred spirit" - someone who was fighting the same battle, facing many of the same issues, and yet was thousands of kilometres away - and in a different country. I suspect she too has experienced the frustration, and sadness, and just pure anger that we occasionally do here in Fort McMurray.
When Alyssa reached out to Toddske he reached out to me, knowing that I would be quite keen to be a part of this adventure in cross-border sharing and kinship. What started out as an email exchange between Wise County and Fort McMurray has now become a friendship - and a podcast. On Sunday Toddske, Tito, and I will Skype with Alyssa and talk about our mutual challenges, our differences - and what it's like to discover you are not alone. We will laugh a lot, probably, and swear a bit, and quite likely vent. What we will do is to continue to forge the kind of bond that a common experience gives you. We will show that we are not alone. And we are not alone, Fort McMurray. We may be different than Wise County, Virginia, and we might be far, far away in terms of physical distance - but in terms of who we are as human beings, and as people - well, we are no different at all. We are not only not alone, we are all on this planet together. And it's time, perhaps, for everyone to understand that.
"We Are Not Alone" podcast
will be on YMMPodcast
on Tuesday, January 17th.