A few months ago I sat down with a reporter and a photographer from the Edmonton Journal. They were in our community doing stories on life here, and one of the angles they wished to pursue was life as a woman in Fort McMurray. I contacted them and agreed to be interviewed, although with some trepidation, the anxiety I usually feel when I am not sure of the outcome of such a story. My anxiety was likely a bit higher than normal, though, because for the first time I was telling a very personal story, and I knew it might come out in a very public forum.
You see I mentioned in this blog a couple of posts ago that when I travel and am asked where I am from I reply that Fort McMurray is my chosen home - and that has never been more true than this past year, because just last year, around this time, I faced a very real and very difficult decision - whether or not to leave Fort McMurray.
I had come to a personal crossroads in my life, and while I will not now (or likely ever) share the intimate details of that in this blog I was faced with a choice. I had the challenge - and opportunity - of choosing where to live. It was just the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I to consider now (well, and the menagerie of creatures but they care little as long as they have full food bowls), and we had options.
We could move south to Calgary, where the IJB's father now lives, and we could take advantage of milder weather and a larger city and lower house prices. We could head a little less far south and find the same things in Edmonton, or we could move to Saskatoon, where I grew up and have siblings and other family. Or we could stay in Fort McMurray and meet the challenges along the way.
I didn't make the decision immediately, you see. I first began with the basics. I needed a job, not just a "job" but a career where I could grow and be part of something special, and become an addition to a team that was doing things of meaning and value. I knew it couldn't be just any job - and when I found a job that far exceeded what I ever thought I could do with my skills and talents I took it as a sign. It was a mark in favour of staying in Fort McMurray.
And then we needed a place to live, but it couldn't be just any place. It had to be one that was special, that had a feeling and an atmosphere that could both become our home and a place to help me heal a bit during some trying personal times. I needed to find a refuge and oasis, a place that was both safe and secure in every sense. And so with my trusted friend and realtor by my side I found that home, the one where I write this now and where I come home to every single day.
Finally I needed to take stock of my life in this place, and rediscover why I was here - and so I did, making mental notes of all the things I would miss should we choose to leave. And I kept coming back to the same things, you see. I could find Starbucks and grocery stores anywhere, and in even greater number. I could find shoe stores and cafes. But what I could not, and would not, find just anywhere were the people I have come to know and love here. These are the people who started as strangers, became friends, and now are family in my world. These are the people I talk and text to daily, who keep me grounded and make me laugh, who occasionally argue with me (and then invite me over for dinner) and who have given me something that I have never really found anywhere else. These people have given me a community. They have given me a home.
And so I made a decision. The IJB and I sat down and we talked about leaving - and about staying. We talked about the team I had joined, people who are not just my co-workers but my friends, and what we are building together. We talked about our little house, not huge but the right size for the two of us (and apparently as many animals as we can stuff in). And we talked about our friends, the people who have embraced us both and who hold us tighter than ever, the ones who when we said we might leave forbid the very idea and worked hard to show us why we must stay. So we made a decision - to stay here in Fort McMurray, and not because of money, that thing so many people think others base their decisions on. We stayed because of the people here. We stayed because Fort McMurray is home.
I don't know if we will be here forever. I know that the IJB has plans that include studying internationally, and I believe she will one day not only leave this community but leave this country to seek her future elsewhere. But she will go knowing that she will always have a home in this place and with the people here, because this is the firm foundation such future adventures are built on. For myself, I suppose there is always a chance I will choose to leave some day, but for now, and in my heart I think, Fort McMurray will always be home. This was the place where one life I led ended, and a new life has begun. This is the place where I have been surrounded by those who have encouraged me, cheered me on, offered shoulders to cry on, and made me laugh, sometimes all in one day. This is the place where I found not just a home, but my heart and my spirit and my passion. This is why I spoke to Jodie Sinnema of the Edmonton Journal for this article, and this is why I share it, and this story, today - because I think it is time I said out loud why Fort McMurray is my chosen home.
Fort McMurray is my chosen home - because this is the place where I finally came to understand what home really means. Home means the place where you feel happy and have found what makes your heart sing, and for me that is this little place surrounded by the boreal forest, glittering under the dancing northern lights.