Yesterday I returned home to Fort McMurray since the first time since we left by flight on May 5th from north of our city at one of the camps. I will tell you the story of how we made our way out at another time, but tonight, I wanted to talk about driving up Highway 63 to reach home yesterday.
Our oldest, Mitchell, had received a call about returning to work, and we had still not gotten our car back from the camp site, so we decided to drive him up to his truck, and retrieve our car. The drive up was fairly quiet given the early morning get up, but as we neared the city and started to smell the smoke again, we all sat up a bit straighter and started to watch the tree line a bit closer.
When we finally hit the turn off for the airport road and started to see the remnants of what the huge fire had left in it's path, I fell silent. Mitchell and Tim chattered and pointed out the losses to each other along either side of the road. I am convinced after the last month that men and women are totally wired differently. As we made our way down Beaconhill, and into the downtown area I felt a lump in my throat, and my eyes tearing, but it was not from the smoke or air quality. The amount of loss for the people in Beaconhill, Waterways, Abasand, Saprae, Wood Buffalo and Parsons hit me like a wall once I started seeing just corners of the total damage from the drive down the hill. And as we made our way to the camp parking lot I sat trying not to cry for all that had happened during the last few weeks to our community. We switched around, made sure Mitchell was safely on his way and I started back south towards Edmonton in the rental car, while Tim drove our car in case it was smoky. In the last few years my lungs have gotten worse, and this past winter I struggled with breathing on several occasions due to my issues, including asthma.
My first reaction as I came back south from site was to get in the far right lane to go up Confed as I got closer, it was just automatic. But the RCMP had the exit blocked and I was reminded to keep south. By the time I reached Gregoire, I was crying. I wanted to stay so badly, but in the short time I was in the area, my breathing became heavier, and I had to break out my puffers. I cried because I had to leave, I cried because I couldn't go see if my house was okay, I cried because I felt guilty for still having a house when so many lost theirs, and I cried because it feels like our community had been through a hard enough 18 months even before the fire happened.
I had my little pity party, and I turned on the radio and felt sorry for myself and Fort McMurray all the way to Wandering River. And then I stopped to get gas, and some air, and it was crazy busy at that little stop. And I looked around at all the work crew guys heading north to help rebuild our city, and had a moment.
If you have read this blog in the past, you know that we have had our own personal challenges over the years. And standing there in Wandering River, looking across the parking lot as my husband, Tim approached me I realized that we would be fine. I could have died from having a bone marrow transplant, he could have been killed instead of badly injured by a drunk driver, our little girl could have passed away from complications when she was young, but we are fine. We have a home to go home to once we do whatever we need to do to make it safe, and we will go back.
When you have a transplant, you celebrate that date like it is a new birthday. Every time I hear the word, "re-entry", for some reason, I think "re-birth". So today, June 1, 2016, I am declaring it a new beginning, again, for the Murphy family in Fort McMurray. We remember life "before" and "after" the transplant, the accident, and now we will add the "before the fire" and "after the fire" to the mix as well.
And on an even more personal level, this blog will be reborn. Before it was always "Around the Kitchen Table", because I had envisioned it would contain the conversations that people had at their own kitchen tables. From here on in, my new blog will be known as "Murphy's View From McMurray" for a few reasons. Months ago when I asked friends for their ideas, they all said that I should have my name in the title somewhere, and over the last few weeks I really wanted to make sure that Fort McMurray was included as well. Because through all of the last month, and everything that happened, I know that I love being a Murphy more than ever, thanks Tim, and I love being from Fort McMurray more than I ever thought possible. The way that my heart swells with pride when I think about our community, well, I think I will just have to dedicate myself as we all head back to trying to capture how deep that feeling of pride really runs. It will be hard to put it into words.
I know that this new "rebirth" will be full of challenges, great people, lots of love and hope. I also hope that it will be full of laughter, fun, and lots of sharing so that we all realize we are not alone with whatever we are going through. My goal with the new blog was to capture more stories of the people, businesses and events around town, and now more than ever I am committed to that goal. Months ago I had visions of having a grand launch day, and a big announcement. But today, June 1, with re-entry starting it suddenly hit me that I didn't need a big announcement, because life is full of every day moments, and huge tragedies, so I will start this journey today, with Fort McMurray, and it's residents. There is not one single doubt in my mind that we will rebuild, and we will help those most devastated in the weeks and months to come. Because we are Fort McMurray, and that's what we do.
As I got back in the car and started my drive back to Edmonton for another couple of weeks, this was the song that came on the radio, so I turned it up, and thought about how Fort McMurray will be there for us, whenever we all decide it is safe to go home.