Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Coincidences, Distant Family, and Fort McMurray Ribbons

I suppose one could dismiss it all as the world being a very small place, and coincidences being just part of life. And of course I believe those things, that the world is indeed a small place and that coincidences happen to all of us - but sometimes the events in my life exhibit such synchronicity and extraordinary coincidence that I cannot help but wonder if there is some thread somewhere that ties it all together.

You see it began a few days ago when I eulogized my beloved Aunt Rose in this very blog. I wouldn't normally use this community blog for that purpose, but in her case it seemed appropriate because my Aunt Rosie was the ultimate Alberta woman, having spent pretty much her entire life living in this province. I always thought of her as our family Alberta rose, a beautiful flower on the vast prairies, and so when she died I decided to write about her here. What I couldn't have seen was the events that would come after that, though.

When I wrote about Aunt Rose I linked the story to the site where I found her obituary. I thought perhaps some family members may read it, although I doubted that a bit. I am not particularly good at keeping in touch with extended family, and I had not see Aunt Rose - or most of my other extended family - for many, many years. When life is busy that extended connection is often the first one to slip, and so while I wrote about my aunt I acknowledged how long it had been since I had seen her, too.

This week I opened up my email and found a message. You see my Aunt Rose, who was my dad's sister, was married to a man named Eddie. The message was from the wife of Eddie's nephew, so not a direct blood relation to me but rather a relation through marriage - family nonetheless because we share a memory of someone we both called Aunt Rose, and Uncle Eddie of course. The message from this distant cousin-by-marriage thanked me for the post on Rose, and said she had given a printed copy to Uncle Eddie. I was touched and replied to her, and she responded almost immediately. And what was in that response was pretty amazing.

You see this lady, this cousin-by-marriage, has family here in Fort McMurray. A brother, a son, a son-in-law - and she casually mentioned that her aunt Helen, an elderly lady, had recently been recognized at a party at "some island there", as she put it. And that casual comment stopped me cold, because of course I knew exactly who she meant. She meant Helen Bishop, the lady who was born on MacDonald Island 90 years ago, and who was honoured at the 2012 MacDonald Island Park State of the Island gala. I was there when it happened. I had seen the video of the lovely Helen, and heard her story of life here. I had seen her put on an orange MacDonald Island Park jacket. And of course I had mentioned her in this very blog when I wrote about the event, and when I thought about all the changes she would have seen in this world, let alone this community. What really amazed me, though, is that now I work at MacDonald Island Park, a place which stands on the island where she was born. And the slender ribbon that ties us all together in this world once again wrapped itself around me, and I was left musing on the synchronicity and coincidence of life.

Perhaps I was not related to Helen Bishop by blood but yesterday when I drove to work I felt related to her in some far more intrinsic way. Ninety years ago she was born on a little island in Fort McMurray, and she watched as this community grew and changed just as she did. I may not have witnessed that life, but I was there to witness when she was honoured at a celebration of that island, and of this community. Sadly Helen Bishop passed away shortly after the State of the Island, and she will not see as it moves into the next phase (the development of Shell Place, and all the changes that will come with that). And while she will not see it with her eyes I suspect she still has family here that will - and now she has someone who feels connected to her in a new sense, and someone who drives to that island almost every single day marvelling at how rapidly this world changes, and how very fortunate she is to witness it at all. That person is, of course, me.

I know I should dismiss this all as coincidence, and as this just being a very small world. And perhaps it is, and that is all there is to it. But I would be lying if I said that I did not feel that this new knowledge of my connection to Helen Bishop is special, because to me it is. When I realized the connection, however tenuous and slender, it warmed me in some way I cannot explain. When I thought about Helen Bishop, and MacDonald Island, and my place in this community it just seemed once again that the ribbon that ties me to Fort McMurray winds tighter every day. Every day I find another connection here - another person I find inspiring, another organization I respect, another opportunity or challenge - and this week a family connection, a slim one perhaps, but a connection nonetheless. Learning that I am connected in some way to a woman who was born 90 years ago not only in this community but on the island where I now work - and the place that I have always believed is the heart of this community, and that has been a part of my entire life here - was meaningful to me. It was yet another tie in the Fort McMurray ribbon that binds me to this place, and yet another reason that I call this place home, because if there is some sort of grand design in this world then I think part of that design was for me to end up here, at this time, in this place. If you believe in fate then I think, perhaps, Fort McMurray was mine, and every once in awhile the universe likes to remind me through slender ribbons of connection.

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