How does one begin to describe the past two days? How does one begin to explain the thoughts, the emotional turmoil, the pain? We can’t. We can’t tell you how we are doing. We can’t tell you how we are feeling or coping because we don’t know. We don’t have any real idea how we are functioning at this point.
We woke up on a typical Tuesday morning. It was sunny and bright, and the forecast said warm temperatures. We weren’t excited about that. We knew there were still fires burning close by. Yet we had confidence that things would be contained soon. We went to work; we went about our morning.
I am a Grade 6 teacher at a public school. Our day went about as usual. Students went out for recess. There was little to no smoke in the air. Then it was 1:00 p.m., and it all changed. From one side of the school you could see the fire, the smouldering orange colour that will forever be etched in my brain. We knew then that things were bad. The river that we thought was working as a barrier couldn’t stop the flames from crossing.
I tried to remain as calm as I could. Twenty-five faces were looking at me with worry. We carried on with our lesson. I had to just keep teaching. Parents began coming to pick up students early. One by one they were called to the office. Next was the organized chaos of dismissal, frantic parents coming in for their children, who likely still didn’t understand the severity of anything. Buses that would normally take students home were stuck in gridlock.
Tears and worry flooded the hallway. I said “goodbye” and “be safe.” And they were gone. Just like that. We all went our separate ways. My heart aches for those sweet kids and their families.
There’s a sense of relief knowing everybody is safe. And we’re beyond thankful for that. Beyond thankful for being with family or friends and having a place to stay.
Then what? We wait. We wait to hear about our homes. We wait to hear about our community.
We watch the news in complete horror. To us it isn’t news. To us it is an ongoing horror film that just won’t shut off. Something that continues to haunt us with every minute the flames continue to burn.
We wait ... for what seems like increasingly devastating news. We wait ... to hear if our city will have anything left standing. We wait ... to figure out what our next step is. We wait ... to attempt to make sense of what is happening to us.
I am currently seven months pregnant with our first child. We had his room ready. We had everything we could prepared for his arrival. I stood in his room before we left. Helpless. I just said goodbye. Not to the things ... those are just things. I said goodbye to the life we had, the life I thought we would welcome him into. I said goodbye to everything we knew and worked so hard for.
We said goodbye and now we wait ... with zero idea what we are waiting for.
I have faith that we will all be fine, and I know how resilient the people of Fort McMurray are. We put up with bullies daily. But nothing like this bully, Mother Nature. However, I have no doubt everyone will come out on the other side.
How? We’re not sure yet. But we thank you for your help. It is comforting to know that you are with us and thinking of us. Our firefighters, RCMP and all emergency workers are to be commended for their tireless efforts. Our thoughts are with them. Our hearts are with them until the end.
Our world is shaken and broken. The unknown is a dark cloud of misery. We will wait for it to subside.
Thank you for waiting with us. Thank you for helping in any way you can. The outpouring of love from family and friends, the calls, the messages, the support is what is keeping us going. We are all together in this. We will grow together more than apart. Even though it seems a million miles away right now ... we will all be OK. ❚
Justine Kelly is a Grade 6 teacher at Timberlea Public School in Fort McMurray.
This article was first published on May 5 on Kelly’s Facebook page.