I have been shaken by news stories before. I can remember being nine years old and jumping up to turn the channel whenever updates from the Gulf War flashed across the screen. September 11th was my first day of university (in a border city, no less) and I watched the coverage almost non-stop for two weeks. The initial Tori Stafford search plagued my thoughts and dreams.
I feel the same way about the mall collapse in Elliot Lake, Ontario, but for very different reasons. In the other instances, empathy kept me engaged, had me sending positive thoughts and prayers, and saw me hoping not to hear any worse news. In this case, the reasons hit much closer to home.
My husband, Blaine, was born and raised in Elliot Lake. Throughout the course of our nine years together, I’ve met dozens of people from the small Northern Ontario community — Blaine’s best friends, of course, but also many acquaintances and strangers — mostly because the majority of them have since left the community. The economy is static and the lifestyle is geared toward seniors. I don’t know what effect this tragic event will have on the state of things. On top of the one confirmed life lost and the lives in danger, it will mean vanished businesses, less jobs and a social void for those who gathered often at the Algo Centre Mall to catch up over a cup of coffee. It will take a long time for the community to recover.
For me, I keep thinking how easy it would have been for us to be among those praying for their family members to be alive under the rubble. Blaine’s grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins all live in Elliot Lake. We’ve been to the mall dozens of times. Soph has even been there, when we went to visit back in January. And the fact is, we’re making the trip again next week. If the collapse had happened a week from now, we could have been directly affected.
I admit, I’ve always struggled with balancing the distance between our families. When Soph entered the picture, it got harder because family members wanted to see us even more. Blaine and I started discussing Christmas plans sometime in February, because it will take that long to figure out the logistics. This year will be the first time in 30 years that I won’t be at home for Christmas morning. Until this week, I’ve had a hard time getting my head wrapped around that. But this disaster in Elliot Lake has reminded me that we are so lucky to have our families and that we need to make the effort whenever we can, despite the 6+ hour drive between Guelph, where I’m from, and Elliot Lake. Soph needs to know her Mamere and Papere, who raised her dad into the man that he is. I’m just sorry that it took a tragedy to strike that chord.
I’m sorry this post isn’t at all funny — not like my normal shtick — but it’s a sad week. With every hour that passes in Elliot Lake, the chance for survivors gets more and more slim. The world also lost writer Nora Ephron last night — a hilarious, poignant and boundary-breaking talent that has inspired me for years. And there’s just nothing funny about that.
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