by Theresa Wells
I think it is safe to say that as individuals some weeks are tougher than others. And while it may seem this is an individual circumstance I would argue it is true for communities, too, with some weeks being far tougher – and far more heart breaking – than others.
The past week in Fort McMurray has been one of those weeks. As I reflect on the past week I cannot help but think of the parents of two young children, now gone through a tragedy, and another child still fighting for their life. I cannot help but reflect on what truly matters in a community.
Communities are not about arenas or recreation centres. They are not about civic buildings, art galleries or shopping malls. All of those things contribute to communities, of course, but it is the people you find in those buildings that build the community. It is the citizens of every age, from the very old to the very young, the families and the senior citizens. Perhaps, though, most profoundly, communities are about children.
You see I think as a species we began to live in a communal way because of children. Childhood is our most vulnerable stage of life, and a gathering of adults can protect those vulnerable beings much more effectively than one or two parents alone ever could. In ages past this meant a tribe gathered against dangerous predatory animals, and, over time and as we have changed, it has come to mean a community gathered against whatever danger threatens our vulnerable children now.
Children are the heart of our community. They are the core of why we do what we do, the perpetuation of our species and our genes. Even those who do not have children recognize the importance and the value of every single child, because they are our future. They are our gift to the world, the ones who will carry on when we are gone. They are, in the end, everything that community is about.
Perhaps that is why the death of a child strikes us in the heart, makes us feel sorrow and pain even if we do not know the child or the parents. Perhaps it is because over the evolution of our species we have developed a powerful empathy for children, knowing that our future – the very future of our entire species – rests on them. We are so programmed to protect them, so driven to ensure their safety that the loss of a child strikes at the very core of who we are. We feel it keenly and deeply, and we grieve, and we mourn – just as we should.
I believe that children are virtually synonyms for community. Everything we want to build in our communities – strength, safety, and resiliency – are things we wish to build in our children. We build our communities because of our children, because we want them to be strong, safe and resilient places for them. Our children are our community, and so, when we lose a child in a community, we feel a communal sense of loss and grief that ripples far and wide and deep, just as we have seen this past week in our community.
It will take time to recover from the losses we have experienced this week. This community will continue to pray and hope for the wellbeing of the children still fighting for their lives, and it will do so for every single child who is touched by grave illness or terrible tragedy. And while it has been a difficult week in our community, one marked by tears and sorrow, so too has it been incredibly heart-warming as we saw a community come together to support, to empathize and to love the families of the children we collectively lost. It is in moments such as this that we see the true strength of our community, the real resiliency and spirit. It is in our darkest hour that we find ourselves – and our community. I don’t know if I have ever shed more tears in this community than this past week – or felt more proud of it and all the people who call this place home. Some weeks are tougher than others – and some weeks you are reminded of what a community really, just as we did in seven difficult days in Fort McMurray.
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