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People of Heart - Why I Live in Fort McMurray

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Have you ever stopped to just feel your heart beat?  Taken two fingers and placed them on your wrist, checking the radial pulse?  You can feel every surge of blood flowing under your skin, shooting through the arterial system, almost hints--proofs of your life.

I remember studying to work on the ambulance.  You learn all about the necessary pieces required for your heart to work properly.  Red blood cells act as taxis.  Carrying oxygen and nutrients to the heart cells and exchanging them for CO2 and waste products.  The SA node literally electrically shocks the heart 60-100 times a minute to shoot the taxi blood cells all around the body.

A plethora of infinitesimal factors are required to happen just right for the heart to do its job properly.  Remove one factor and you have imminent disaster.  Cardiac arrest.  Death.

I’ve been asked so many times: Why Fort McMurray?  Of all the beautiful, opportunity-ridden communities across Canada, why am I still here?  Sure, I grew up here; but I purposely left.  I explored Canada and the world.  And then, I came back...  When mulling over this question, one image keeps coming back to me: the heart.

Just like there are innumerable factors that keep the heart alive, working and healthy, there are just as many list items that keep this city alive, working, and thriving.  I think of all the people migrating from across the country; those who hear the stories of milk and honey, and show up, wide-eyed and eager to work.  Also, I think of the men and women who have put in the time, leaving a legacy of sweat equity and finally, retiring.  People in.  People out.  Red blood cells.  Exchange.  Movement.  Life.

You have the families that show up and scrape every cent together to save for the dream home, the college education, the family back home.  Living off cheap pasta and dreams.  Then there are 20-year-olds making six figures and spending every paycheck, living on lifted tires and flash.  We may complain about any one of these types, but I would argue that Fort McMurray needs every single one.  Those planting and growing a home, just as much as the transients.  The savers and the spenders.  Every person with a Fort McMurray story is part of something much, much bigger.

Like the heart pumps blood through the pipes of your vascular system to nourish and sustain the body, doesn’t Fort McMurray also pump tangibles--oil through literal pipelines, money, personnel, jobs—providing a pulse across the entire country?  A factory of production essential to the health and vitality of Canada’s entire body?

As much as the physical aspects of the heart can biologically explain life, how often is ‘heart’ used to explain so much more?  If someone is said to have ‘heart’-they are focused, passionate and full of character.  We love with our hearts.  Feel with them.  Put our entire heart into our families, our passions, our dreams.

Fort McMurray radiates heart.

The selfless record-breaking donations to Santas Anonymous every year.  The amount we give to the Food Bank, the United Way…Charities of all shapes and sizes.  The generosity makes larger cities envious.

I think of–with swelling pride–the way Fort McMurray acted through the May 2016 wildfire.  The stories of people sharing and treating strangers like family are still pouring in and continue igniting the heart with inspiration.

There is almost a shared character between the people of Fort McMurray.  A camaraderie.  An understanding.  They are the ones quick to defend the northern community when haters speak up.  They have each other’s back with a wordless or, when warranted, loud affirmation.  I’m sitting here, trying to put it into words, but all that comes to mind is a feeling, a connection—heart.  Vigour.  Life.

THAT’S why I live here.  I’m part of a community that has more depth and pride than any other place I’ve ever known.  I’ve written often about the camaraderie and family-like feeling I have at the Fire Department—a massive reason I work there.  The fire service is a coveted career.  The number of men and women graduating from Fire College increases every year.  I would say it has less to do with fighting fire than it has to do with that bond around the fire hall.  Being a part of something bigger.  Fort McMurray is the only city I know of that has that same hard working, unashamed, do-anything-for-you HEART--on a municipal scale. And after all, home is where the heart is.