By Margaret-Anne Enders –
“Stay safe”. In the midst of this summer’s wild fires, evacuations, and escaping from heavy smoke, that simple phrase became a standard Cariboo farewell. It certainly was my go-to in ending every phone call, email, text, or visit. It was said with urging, with concern, with fear, and with hope that safety would indeed prevail. And in most cases, it did. There was no loss of human life, and while some returned home to devastation, the majority were able to return to life as normal. Except that normal doesn’t exist anymore, at least not yet. Many people are still experiencing the roller coaster of emotion that comes with the loss, even temporarily, of a sense of safety. While the evacuation alerts have been lifted in town, wild fires still rage in the Chilcotin, and the sense of danger has not passed.
This deep down threat to safety arouses so many emotions: intense sadness, anger, and emerging into light, intense desire for connection. The generosity that has erupted throughout the province is overwhelming. Food, accommodation, shelter for animals, random acts of kindness. The best of the human spirit has been called up and gives rise to a profound hope in my very core that we will not go back to normal. That this spirit of sharing and care and concern will help to mold us into a community with a deeper sense of connection.
The big challenge is how to translate the immediate generosity into this lasting connection.
While people are wanting to give, they are also working to get their homes and gardens in order after a time of being away. They are preparing for kids going back to school and for meetings, clubs, and activities in September. Those of us who do canning are busy putting food away for the winter. In addition, people are embroiled in the emotional process of recovery from this event. That can result in exhaustion and lack of energy or initiative, making it hard to get things back into order. It is all part of the emotional sorting out that needs to happen.
Despite the challenges, we see people setting up Go Fund Me campaigns, collecting money for fire victims, and offering generously of their food and goods. It is truly wonderful and inspirational to see so many digging deep into their pocketbooks and helping out their neighbours. Giving of money and goods is necessary to help people rebuild homes and recover lost income. It is vital for those on the receiving end and also feels good for those who give in this way.
I just hope that it doesn’t stop there. Giving of money and goods is easy. One can feel like they have been helpful without a whole lot of time and energy, which as noted might be hard to come by. The limiting factor in this kind of giving is that it tends to be one-way and often short-lived. There is rarely space or opportunity for developing relationships. And I think it is the development of new relationships that will be the key in whether our community returns to the status quo or moves in the direction of being more connected. In short, this giving is safe. It doesn’t require much of our emotional selves. We can give and feel good without having to break out of our bubble of “normal”. And right now, we really want that normal.
Amidst the backdrop of our own crisis are the shocking displays of white supremacy down south. The anger and trauma of those events has reverberated even in our own community. As a white woman, it is tempting to sit with a sense of relief that this is not going on in our country. True, it is a very extreme situation, but Canada is not immune to racism, hatred, and bigotry. In our own area, acts of racism are experienced by Indigenous and people of colour on a daily basis. So just when we are desperately longing for safety, we are faced with this kind of societal complexity. And looking at some of these issues in our own community and in our own lives does not feel safe. It is unsettling and messy and humbling.
The reality of the situation is, however, that for true safety in a community, the sense of safety must be palpable to everyone. The more it is available to all, the safer we all will feel.
I wonder if we can bravely move forward by giving more than just our money and our goods. Perhaps we can give time—to host block parties, to get to know our neighbours, to make a point of finding common ground with those who might hold different opinions than we do. Perhaps we can get to know people from other cultures, both Indigenous and international, and take the time to learn how they see our community, what helps them thrive, and what gets in their way. Perhaps we could collectively join the efforts of those who tackle some of the larger social issues in our town, such as affordable housing. If we open ourselves up in this way, we are more likely to understand and give what is really needed, not what we think others may need. This may feel like a step outside of our comfort zones and not safe at all. But the window for radical generosity is open, right now, and, as this summer has shown, we are a brave people.
In her work with the multicultural program at Cariboo Mental Health Association, as well as in her life as a parent, partner, faithful seeker, left-leaning Christian, paddler, and gardener, Margaret-Anne Enders is thrilled to catch glimpses of the Divine in both the ordinary and the extraordinary. To find out more about the Women’s Spirituality Circle, call (250) 305-4426 or visit www.womenspiritualitycircle.wordpress.com or on Facebook at Women’s Spirituality Circle in Williams Lake.