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

Saturday, April 27, 2013

One Year Ago Today on Highway 63

One year ago today two trucks were travelling on Highway 63. One was headed north, and one was headed south. On that day those two trucks collided and changed the destiny of thousands of people.

It is a bit hard for me to sit here and write this today, because I am cognizant of the fact that one year ago seven people who are now gone were still with us. Seven people, people with family and friends and co-workers and a community. Seven people who got up that morning and headed out on the highway, never knowing what awaited them. But one year later I know, and you know. One year later we all know how this day ended.

I am not going to retell that story, and for many reasons. We all know it, and there is no need to retell it. And frankly retelling that story makes my head feel heavy, and my heart feel wooden. It makes me feel dull inside, a dullness that comes from thinking and writing and talking about that story time and time again. And yet even if I do not retell that story I know I will not forget it - because it changed my life.

One year ago, after a day filled with tears and anger and pain I sat down at this very keyboard and wrote an open letter to the premier. I did not ask her to twin Highway 63. I demanded it, with the vehemence and passion that anger and pain inspired. I closed my laptop and went to bed, exhausted and grieving for people I did not even know - and never would, because they were no longer with us. I awoke the next morning to find my post had spread all over the country, and that it was not just my voice demanding change. It was thousands of voices, all of us touched by loss and pain and grief.

Since that day one year ago I have heard dozens of stories. I have talked to mothers who lost sons, and fathers who lost daughters. I have heard so much loss, and grief, and pain. I have talked to those for whom the loss was still new and fresh, and those who had lost someone decades ago but who still felt that pain every day - and I know all too well that the pain of loss never goes away. Perhaps time dulls it, but time does not, in the end, heal all wounds. Some wounds we just live with, leaving us scarred forever.

I have never lost a loved one on Highway 63 - and yet I feel I have lost so much to those tragic collisions. Every single story I have heard, every parent or child or aunt or uncle or friend who spoke to me and told me of their loss - well, in some sense their loss became mine, too. I could see their pain so clearly, the look in their eyes, their grief and agony. I could feel it, because it was so real it stretched beyond them and into me. It stretched right out into our community, a pain and grief so deep and profound that it touched us all.

I carry all those stories with me now. They are in my head, and in my heart. Some I have written about, in this blog and other places, and some I will never write because those who told them to me entrusted me with a pain and grief they had never shared with anyone other than their own families. I am beyond honoured to have been the stranger they trusted to reach out to and tell their story. I am humbled by it, in fact, and their stories now have a place with me, too. Their loved ones will not be forgotten, because their story has been shared.

Today is not a day for politics. Today is not a day to talk about how long, too late, inaction, or inadequacy. Today is not a day to talk about safe driving or our own behaviours. There are 364 days of the year we can do those things, but not today. Today is the day to remember. It is the day to think about those we lost one year ago, and those we have lost over the decades. Today is the day to think about them, and their families. Today is the day to think about those of us who have been first on scene at those collisions, and the memories we carry as a result. Today is the day to think about the first responders who live every day with their memories of collisions, and of tragedies.

And today is something else. Today is the day to hold close those we love, and to tell them we love them. Today is the day to tell people how we feel about them, and to share our love. Today is a day to remember those we have lost and embrace those who are still here. Today is a day of mourning and remembrance, but it is also a day to ensure that we appreciate every single day. Today is a day like any other, which is exactly what makes it so special.

Tonight, just before bed, I will light a candle. I will light it in honour of those lost one year ago, and in honour of all those lost before and since. I will light it in honour of the families they have left behind, and to recognize their grief. And then I will go and hug my daughter, the Intrepid Junior Blogger, because all else in this world pales in importance compared to her.

I suspect others will light a candle tonight. I suspect this community if seen from above would be glowing with soft candlelight as we remember, and we honour. We are the light in the darkness of a day that cost so very much for all of us. We are the light of hope on a dark day in our history. We stand united as a community to remember and honour. Hundreds and maybe thousands of candles will spread our glow out into the northern darkness. That glow reflects our love, our compassion, and our memories.

Today is a day of a maelstrom of emotions for me. I will light a candle and for a moment allow them to wash over me. When I blow the candle out I will release those emotions and their grasp on me, but I will retain one thing. I will honour the memories and the stories of those who are gone, because they are now a part of me. The candlelight may fade, but those stories, and the impact they have had on me? That will linger forever, because they changed my life. A tiny ribbon of road that has woven into and out of my life for the last eleven years has now become one of the strings that ties my life together, and tied into it are the stories and the memories. For me Highway 63 long ago ceased to be a road. It became a journey, a trail of stories all woven together with loss and pain and grief. One year ago today on Highway 63 thousands of lives were changed forever. And one of them, as insignificant as it may seem, was mine. One year ago today. I remember.

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