Post 131

Safe: Reflections on the Fire of Fort McMurray

I suppose

That by the time I’m done this post, I will have alienated yet another group of people

Perhaps

Oh well

Easy come

Easy goes

(I know, but it rhymes better.)

Toesy toes

Just shows

Blah blah blah.

Poetry class.

Alright: Focus, blog-writer-you!

I was going to write about the fire of Fort McMurray.

I have a lot of issues about the coverage of the events of Fort McMurray and everyone’s reaction to it. I find myself not singing the same tune or weeping the same way as everyone, as usual.

First of all, let’s be clear. Many, many of the people who are fixated on the fire don’t actually care about the people who are involved and affected by the blaze.

Be honest.

Many of the people are watching because they find it interesting. They find that it distracts them from their own lives and their own problems. Escapism, actually. I have written about the bystander before. Ah yes, I see. That was way back in Post 20.

There are many mixed motives for paying attention to the suffering of others. Only one is empathy.

I don’t need to watch the news in order to care about the sufferings of others. I don’t need to hear the very latest in order to care for them, or even – if I wanted – to donate money.

Second, not every person who goes on the news to talk about their personal experience of being up-close-and-personal with the loss of some possessions or the loss and damage to some real estate is entirely as upset as it may seem to you.

Some people are very good at turning on the tears.

They just are.

Now, I am not saying that every single person reporting to the media and every single person bawling on Station number 9 is a fake. I’m just saying that some of them are milking it. Some of them are using this as their first (and only) crack at fame.

Don’t believe me?

Don’t believe that some people will use Whatever Story They’ve Got

to be on TV? Or online?

Then you haven’t been on earth for very long, have you?

Turn on any TV. Look at YouTube for under ten minutes.

Notoriety. Fame.

People want it.

For some reason.

(All the wrong reasons.)

Now they have a story to tell (or a cat who they’ve trained – after 496 hours and a million cans of fish – to do some trick). So they’ll tell it.

With flare.

If you don’t believe that Grandma can act then little boy: have you got somethin’ to learn! She’s one of a kind. Primo. You don’t think Grandma Vanilla and Grandpa Godzilla can act?

Whoo-boy. Then please don’t play poker, son. You’s gonna lose.

Every single day, people are putting on a face.

They’re pretending non-stop. Pretending to like you. Pretending to love you. Pretending they’re delighted with the gift you sent and pretending to be sad with the sufferings you’ve had.

Shameful.

But

(to give credit where it’s due)

Impressive

(Acting that is).

[As for me, I’ve been fooled

Lots of times

Thousands

And I was one of those types who was actually quite good at telling

The difference

Yet God did ordain that I’d meet, through my life, some (if not the) very top graduates of the class taught by the father of lies. My, does he ever have some interesting students! Hope you don’t meet them. Ever.]

My point is just that it’s not all quite as dramatic as it seems; it depends on the speaker. Not every speaker is entirely on the level. That’s all.

Speaking of acting, when I was at the airport, I saw that they have televisions there. A lot of them. Going non-stop. Can barely escape them. Give it a try. And they won’t turn them off and they won’t even turn them down (even if you ask, which I did – yes, I AM a moron for thinking they might – care – about the opinion of a passenger paying full fare).

Anyhow, I watched some TV.

I suppose I could have avoided it, but I didn’t. I admit it.

I couldn’t believe it.

Man!

What they put on there!

People: You will become STUPID if you watch this stuff.

The same story

Over and over and over again

Some stupid story about how the actress who is on the same cast as another actor on some show about trailers is VERY DISPLEASED that the actor is A Bad Guy (she convicts before the judge even has) and how now she is Quitting the Show. Whatever. Good riddance, lady.

She tells the news all about it.

Whatever. Take your high standards and leave.

Go away.

Wish I could turn this thing off.

Where’s the remote control?

(Not that I’d know how to use it. Where’s the “Power” button? Is there an “Off” on here?)

The way I see it, this lady actress sees the entire thing as an Opportunity to upstage another actor. The guy has an unwanted story but it’s still – in her eyes – a story. Therefore, she takes to the media: now it’s a story about Her. Ah, that’s better.

Look at Her. Such self-righteous talk.

I don’t even know what her name is.

But she got what she wanted, right?

Now we have a story of how

she broke her contract

with no notice

on a personal whim

and left the other actors – the producers, the writers and everyone else –

in a bind

in the lurch.

Yeah, well, I’m not impressed. The end doesn’t justify the means. She didn’t even know if the allegations against her fellow actor were true.

The guy hadn’t even been (and perhaps never was or will be, I wouldn’t know)
Convicted

(Not that all convictions are conclusive, but sometimes they’re right.)

How would she even know if Mr Actor even did what some other lady accused?

How do you know he wasn’t innocent?

I heckled the actress
in my head.

And I took issue with the weather coverage too

Who thinks that all these people watching the news
Indoors
Care so very much
(They hear the weather report every ten minutes it seems)
About the weather
Outdoors?

Seems to me
They probably don’t care all that much.

But maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe they can’t think of a Single Better Thing to Do
Than sit around watching
Someone standing around talking
About how it’s going to be

“A Little Bit Chilly” or
“Warmer than Before”

The labels these days!
They make absolutely no sense
Some of them

In my day, they used to say things like:
“Partly sunny” and “Rainy”

Nowadays the words are so often these comparative phrases,
Which means that taken out of context, they mean
Pretty Much Nothing at All.

“Hey – what’s the weather tomorrow in Mountain Standard Time? I’m in the middle of packing.”
“Wait a sec. Oh, here it is; got it. It says, ‘SLIGHTLY BETTER’”
“?”

So yeah. When it comes to the news on TV, I don’t like what passes for news and I don’t like what passes for weather. And I don’t like the repetitive ads all in between. What does that leave?

Sports?

It’s not my cup of tea, but maybe YOU have no other way of checking the score and checking out some of the plays of your favorite team’s most recent game. Too bad about that, Mr. Luddite. I feel your pain. Too bad you have to watch all this other stuff just to see 6 seconds of that.

But anyway, about the news.

Chesterton, who was a journalist himself, said that reporters and the news industry really don’t care about whether things happen well or whether things happen badly. They just want things to Happen. They can’t handle it when things Don’t Happen. That would mean they’d have Nothing to Do. Nothing to Report.

So they have an interest, a vested interest, in making things seem Extra Exciting. That’s why the lady from LifeSiteNews said the snow storm was of “biblical proportions.” It sounds way better that way.
It makes the story more Important, and (lo and behold) that makes the reporter more Important too.

Everyone is shouting on top of each other. Look at me! Look at my story! My flames were bigger than your flames! My loss is more dramatic than your loss! My flood is more picture-worthy than your flood! Mine was like Noah’s Ark man. I had water coming out my ears! Oh yeah? Well I had water coming out my nose! Oh yeah? Oh yeah. Good story. Too bad it’s not true. 60% truth, 40% other stuff. 80% truth, 20% other stuff.

And the same thing goes for nearly any story out there. The gory story, the gruesome story, the tear-jerking poignant story: so much one-upmanship and so forth.

If there’s one thing that humans are good at (other than acting), it’s telling a story. The only problem is, aside from that detail of being ‘economical with the truth,’ as it is politely put: the story-teller doesn’t always have an audience. As a result, it turns out that anyone who wants to have friends really only needs to be a good listener. (Problem here is that so many listeners don’t listen with the correct mind and intention. If you listen because you care about the other person, and genuinely want to help, then you will be blessed.)

As for stories, the fiction continues. The people on the front lines aren’t always as entirely as honest as you’d think. It applies to all industries and all times. It is so common that people exaggerate the strength and ferocity of their opponent – human or natural – in order to show you that they were Quite the Hero.

They exaggerate – “just a bit,” they will admit, to themselves – about the size

Of the height of the flames
The depth of the flood
The numbers of dead
The numbers of injured

They figure, oh well, what’s the harm?

There is harm.

There is always harm
In not speaking the truth.
(The truth as far as you know or have figured out.)

I don’t care if the topic is Aunt Mildred’s hat
And whether you like it or not

Or

The salad at the restaurant

Or

The numbers who died in the tsunami

Or

The exact description of the method of death
Of your young uncle
John Henry Taylor

In all cases, stick to the facts
As well as you know them
Or have figured out

If you’re not sure,
Announce that

If you’re making a joke
Let that be obvious
(And funny)

You always need to tell people the truth
Otherwise
You’ll pay the price.

You may find
Otherwise
That you’re now the owner of pea-green purse with matching pea-green train case
(Your favorite, you said)

When the actual truth
Was that your favorite colour is
Fuchsia

(And no, there’s no swear in there.)
It was the truth.
True story.
Just ask the owner of the avocado or pea-green coloured purse
From Italy
(I had believed her at the time – didn’t imagine anyone would bother to lie about their favorite colour.)

The problem with exaggerating stories about Great Suffering and Untold Grief is that God is defamed.

One of the largest obstacles that people have, in beginning a real relationship with God, is that they’ve heard so much about the suffering of so many people all over the world. True, they didn’t see these cases themselves, but they’ve heard. And they believed.

They couldn’t believe the story about God’s goodness because one time they saw a fund-raising video showing a starving child who probably died four minutes later. They couldn’t believe the news about God’s goodness because they heard about the millions upon millions who died mercilessly in incredible suffering with no relief and no respite.

Tell me: how many Christians actually died in the Colosseum of Rome?

You don’t quite know, right?

Perfect.

Then you’ll believe whatever you hear.

And God is defamed.

Again.

“If there’s a God, then how could he let X, Y and Z happen? If there’s a God, then why is it that every day, 5000 innocent children die of starvation in Mexico City?” (This last one I actually believed, for quite some time, I admit; the lie was undone by a proper reflection on God’s goodness, and not with an internet search.)

Meanwhile
(Double standard)
everybody ignores good stories about the good things and ordinary pleasant expected outcomes.

Why the difference? Why so much attention to one thing and none to the other?

I know why.

It’s because:

People are so used to it.

People are so used to Things Turning Out Okay (or even Great)

Isn’t that a good sign?

Chesterton once complained something like this: everyone wants to hear about the fellow who falls off the scaffolding, but nobody wants to write about or hear about the others who stayed on it.

Why?

Because, I repeat:

People are USED TO good news. They are so accustomed to so many things going Largely and Mostly Right from morning to night, Sunday to Saturday, east side to west side, that the bad events stand out.

Imagine how dull the stories would be if you added a bit (a small seemingly-ignorable fact) to each story about the fire of Fort McMurray.

[I think that my little square-bracket flourish below is true; forgive me if I’m mistaken.]

Here we go. Some fictitious new news headlines for you.

Woman Loses Home [But Isn’t Dead or Injured]
Man Loses Both of His Rather New Motorbikes Plus His Ski-Doo [But Isn’t Dead or Injured]
Entire City is Evacuated [But Nobody Dies or is Injured]
Fireman Saw a Really Big Flame [But Isn’t Dead or Injured]

You see what I mean?
The truth removes 95% of the drama

Now, lest you think I can’t empathize,
I can actually say
That I did need to leave my home due to fire
Once

In other words, I know the feeling
Woken in the middle of the night
Loud sound
Seeing flames
Quite near

It was arson (unlike Ft McMurray = forest fire), but not to my home.

Neighbour A had an ongoing dispute with YoungPunk. YoungPunk sometimes lived with his dad, who was shacked up non-maritally with Neighbour B (Neighbour B is a Eucharistic Minister at the local church though she’s living with a man who isn’t her husband and perhaps she knows better – and on this topic, I must say, if you knew what SOME of the Eucharistic ministers do in their spare time you’d be entirely confused as to why they’re Up There all so stiff and so proud handling the Eucharist without reverence in their hearts while you’re Down There attending just like normal). Neighbour A sometimes even called the police on YoungPunk; it was fair. YoungPunk got angry. YoungPunk set two fires at the home of Neighbour A. The first was at the back door, but Neighbour A put it out. The second was at the garage. The garage was on the alley.

The ‘nucleus’ of the fire was about 30 or 40 feet from the fence surrounding my home. My fence ‘should have’ caught fire. There were many bystanders over those hours, standing around in their pyjamas and robes. The siding on my garage melted from the heat of the fire. The siding on the back of my home also testified to the size of the blaze burning so near.

As for me, I did take a photo of the start of the fire. But then, I had to leave, and I didn’t take the camera (threw it on the bed) because in the end, an object is just an object, and my camera was heavy.
New, but heavy and bulky.

I couldn’t get to my vehicle because the fire was too near. It had to be on foot. I went to the home of a neighbour; it was positioned further away from the blaze.

The firemen took forever to arrive. Meanwhile, the blaze consumed garage after garage and houses were beginning to look like Beirut.

As for my home, nothing really happened to it. The wind was blowing so incredibly powerfully at the critical time. The wind came, I’d say, from the west and from the north.

In any case, the wind was so entirely strong that it swept the blaze away from my place.
My possessions were safe.

But whatever
I didn’t care as much as you’d think
I was almost ambivalent
I didn’t watch
With quivering lip
And
Heart all-a-flutter
(The neighbours could testify)

My home, vehicle and all contents were obviously entirely at risk
A momentary change in the direction of the wind
Was all it would take

Sure
Of course
That’s how fires work

But I knew at that moment

As anyone does
That possessions are nothing
(Easy come
Easy go)

If you escape with your life

Relief as you leave
A dangerous place

And something else:
Another word about grief

The worst grieving in the world
Isn’t for possessions

The worst grieving in the world
Doesn’t happen on TV

The worst grieving in the world
Is a secret

Your most bitter tears
Your deepest, most painful wounds
Aren’t shared quite like that

Those hurts are hidden
Silent tears silent pillow
Or blinked away fast
‘fore anyone sees ’em

It’s like that
I know
And you know it too

Nobody fundraises or tweets or custom-makes stickers and plaques
For the world’s deepest pain

As a matter of fact
The world barely notices

When it’s like that

As a matter of fact
The world doesn’t know

Clueless
Too busy
Watching TV
(The weather)
(Again)
And shopping
(Again)
For more stuff

Speaking of fires –
Might as well get them all out if on the same theme –
One more story
I lived just near Whyte Ave
Once
(83 Avenue)
On the other side (east side) of those train tracks
You know it

So when I moved in
There was a triple-X movie rental place
(In those days you at least had to disclose you liked to watch such sickening addictive smut
No internet pipeline)

I said to my friends
That place
It’s got to go

Sure enough
It wasn’t long

Place went up in flames

I stood on my balcony and took photos of the blaze
And the subsequent
Demolition

I was glad

It was gone

My friends joked with me:
Arson?

I laughed.
They knew me well!

(But not as well as they thought,
I know now.)

But as for the people of Fort McMurray
I mean you no harm

As for the stuff of the people of Fort McMurray
That depends
On what the stuff was
And how much unconditional love you had for um, it.

I don’t have unconditional love for your stuff
Or even your real estate

Easy come
Easy go

So shoot me

As for upheaval
As for relocation
My understanding is that many of the people in that town were actually movers and shakers who got there because they relocated from their own town, their home town. Survivor-style tough-as-nails folks. Not wilting lilies or super-sentimental love-my-home and love-my-town folks. Fort McMurray was kind of a like a gold-rush town, no? Expensive gold-rush town, I have heard.

But perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe you’re there because you wanted to be near your wife and kids, and your Aunt Mildred. Or maybe you are Aunt Mildred and you’ve lived there for 1000 years. Just like you said on the news.

If I’ve got you wrong, then please forgive me.

But yes, I’ll concede, inconvenience indeed.
Not the best.
Unforseen.
Kind of like
Life
Dealing with insurers: bleck! (my full pity on that score)

But my main point is that I’m glad you’ve escaped with your life and I hope all the authorities and insurers are 100% prompt and entirely fair.

The thing is, I think it’s mainly a good news situation and I thank our good God that you’re here to tell the tale of how you escaped if you were at risk (let’s tell it right – you’ve been saved and so have your loved ones – that’s the main thing, isn’t it?) As for possessions, they are lost around the world all the time, and that’s not always a top number one story. Easy come, easy go.

As for the observers, watching and sharing is fine, provided that you care about the people involved, and aren’t doing it for your own info-tainment and provided that you aren’t doing it to showcase that you’re Mr. Compassionate or Missy So-Caring.

After the fire in my own neighbourhood, a lot of people came – by car mainly – to gawk at the wreckage. I didn’t find such behaviour particularly impressive – privacy can be nice for those who process a loss.

I’d rather see that you are taking care of the people in your midst (lovable or difficult) than watching TV to catch the latest update about people you have no plans to meet.

Your aunt Mildred agrees.