Circumstances don’t determine a person; they reveal a person. –Epictetus
Last week when the restaurant where my daughter works took a reservation, the customer tearfully explained that she was from Ft. McMurray and that this was the first time since the evacuation that their family could be together. “We’ll have daughters and parents with us as well. We don’t care what time the reservation is. It’s just important to be together.” My daughter had the good fortune of waiting on their table. After the meal the family asked for their bill and Chandra responded. “There will be no charge. Our restaurant is taking care of everyone from Ft. McMurray.” Chandra related the story with tears in her eyes, proud to work for such an organization.
While tragedy crushes the soul, it also inspires the human spirit. There is nothing quite so uplifting as the spontaneous eruption of human goodness and caring that emerges in the midst of a tragic catastrophe. Whether it is a flood or a fire, a tornado or an earthquake, a school shooting or the suicide of a person who lives next door, it appears to be the human code that every civil citizen, in times of crisis and calamity, becomes your neighbor. If you want to know what lies in the heart of people, watch what happens in and to a community following a catastrophe. I know enough about the residents of Ft. McMurray that they will rebuild with a firm resolve and emerge from this tragedy even stronger. Many, after all, are from Newfoundland, who know something about resiliency and caring. Regardless of how it expresses itself in the moment, or whether is lies so deeply within it cannot immediately be found, caring is in our bones.
Amidst the horror of the Alberta wildfires, we witnessed the immediate outpouring of the human spirit. Men and women drove up and down the evacuation convoy with gas for stranded vehicles, food and water, baby supplies, and simple words of comfort. Within hours, schools, educational institutions, and sport facilities were transformed into shelters. Airplane hangers were filled with donations. The Red Cross received a record amount in donations.
I wish to especially pay tribute to the first responders. The firefighters, who, as described by our premier held off an “ocean of fire” and saved up to an estimated 90% of a city that otherwise would have been left to ash and rubble. I also want to recognize our amazing police force, the RCMP, who evacuated some ninety thousand residents in a few hectic hours without a single life lost. Incredible accomplishment. I just can’t fathom how that could possibly be orchestrated.
I’m reminded by my good friend Corey Olynik of a quote from our mutual favorite hero, Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” It is indeed humbling to see all the helpers this past week – from across the province and beyond.
At some time in our life, we have all experienced those who help and those who hinder; those who lift and those who lean; those who contribute and those who consume. To give encouragement, offer support, show interest, and awaken hope in others is its own reward and returns to the giver many times over. Caring actions are noble and beautiful; they make the world a kinder, gentler place for all of us.
I hope the kind of action that came out of Ft. McMurray this week inspires us to not wait for a crisis, but to constantly watch for ways to jump in whenever and however we can, and be part of the solution. It can’t help but be an inspiration to all of us.