Photo Andrea DeMeer

Photo Andrea DeMeer

A disaster changes everything, personally

I don’t want to forget what it feels like to be, even temporarily, homeless

One of the first things that happens, when tragedy occurs, is that most problems a person thought were important yesterday suddenly just … aren’t.

Where is my Amazon package? What’s that funny noise under the hood? How much should we spend on Christmas this year?

Once confronted with disaster, one bearing the proportions of the flood that decimated Princeton on Sunday, Nov. 14, priorities shift literally in a heartbeat.

Is everyone safe? Where’s the dog? Where are we supposed to go? Where are we going to sleep? What are we going to eat?

It’s humbling.

You could own a $1-million home in the most desirable neighbourhood in town, and suddenly you couldn’t leverage that for warmth, clean water, or a bag of potatoes.

A week ago, if asked what I was grateful for, it would have been the usual stuff – husband and children, friends, reasonable health, and a good job.

Those will always be top of the podium. But I quickly learned gratitude for blessings as mundane as a mattress and a blanket, a cup of coffee, shoes and socks, a space heater, milk.

No matter how bad you think you have it it, you needn’t cast far to find someone who has it worse.

It would be remiss to not point out here, that the conditions under which Princeton residents now struggle mirror some of those in our Indigenous communities. Only, those peoples have suffered under them for generations. Schools and businesses closed, no drinking water, lack of food security, failing infrastructure and where the heck is the government?

Think about that.

Locally, leadership rolled stoutly from crisis to crisis. The mayor shared in a causal chat that he’s banned the question, “What’s next?” from municipal hall. It’s important, in desperate times, to maintain a sense of humour.

The witnessing of community members helping others is a wellspring of inspiration and comfort every single day.

Local industries are pouring what must be hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of resources into the clean-up and the provision of supplies. Hockey players are shovelling mud from driveways. There’s been so much chilli and soup cooked in private kitchens, and then delivered to doorsteps, if it was all poured into the Tulameen River, it would swell again.

This event could change Princeton forever.

Oh, the houses will eventually be rebuilt, water and safe sewer services will be restored, and 60 years from now some kid just graduating high school next June will be boring her grandchildren with “the time I saw canoes paddling on Fenchurch Avenue.”

But hold fast to the best of what is happening right now – the generosity, volunteering, sacrifices, and the resiliency of one tough little town. Carry away the lessons we are learning, and store them for the future.

Personally, I don’t want to forget what it feels like to be, even temporarily, homeless. And I hope never to take a glass of milk or a pair of shoes for granted, ever again.

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