Restoration: High River

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I was back in High River a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a year and a half since the flood. A lot of improvements have been made since I wrote High River’s Higher Calling, the post with the most hits on this blog.  I still believe this is an exceptional town, full of the kind of people who adversity trains to become leaders in the country. I still believe they have a high calling.

A lot of improvements have occurred in the last year.

Some homes are actually in better shape than before. Real estate sales are surprisingly good. The restoration period has allowed some businesses to make the improvements they had never gotten around to. The temporary shops down by the railway museum have been dismantled and there is no longer a need for the refugee town of Saddlebrook.

These people have become champions at waiting and patient endurance.

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Restoration can take a long time.

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Some parts of High River are still under construction.

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A large school is still fenced off to students, the playground equipment set off to the side of the playing field now chewed up by heavy machinery.

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Some folks still wait their turn for reconstruction and some houses are boarded up, their owners overwhelmed by the situation.

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And wait…

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And wait…

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There are as many orange construction vests and helmets as leather jackets and cowboy hats to be seen on the streets – maybe more. Utility trailers still park in every neighbourhood and the beep-beep of heavy machinery working on flood mitigation projects is so common it’s become the new background music in this score.

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Life goes on.

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The town endures and rebuilds, one nail, one paint brush stroke, one shovelful, one stone at a time.

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The weary sigh and wait and wonder – how long?

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For some, life is becoming more difficult now that the worst is over. I was thinking about this when I remembered a time of mourning in my life.

As a musician I was often called on to sing or play the organ or piano at a funeral. I learned how to emotionally detach myself so I could bring this moment of comfort to people. I performed songs that were meaningful to survivors, sometimes hunting for music or learning songs in unfamiliar languages on very short notice, but many people told me it meant a great deal to them. It was hard to perform if I was close to the people who were in pain, and harder still if the person we were mourning was someone I knew well. (Eventually I learned to let the tears flow. It was trying to stop them that causes the choked up feeling.) I decided not to take on this role when I was the one sitting in the front row at a funeral. I knew that I was there to mourn and I needed to be comforted.

When my beloved grandmother died I had a chest cold which gave me a good excuse not to sing, even though some people turned the guilt screws and said, “But she was your biggest supporter. It would have meant so much to her.” Fortunately laryngitis gave me an out and another family member stepped in. I warned him to take care of himself after the funeral. I told him that being the strong one who kept control of feelings had its downside. Sometimes when you have to ‘be the strong one’ and keep your emotions in check because people are depending on you, you will find yourself alone when they do rise up, and by then everyone else has moved on.

He is a marvelous musician and “did her proud” as some of Grandma’s friends said. He had to leave right after the funeral due to pressing business in another city. I called him later to check on him and he told me I was right. He was feeling fine, when hours later, he broke down weeping uncontrollably and had to find a place to get off the freeway because he couldn’t drive. He found himself on a lonely back road in the middle of nowhere without the comfort of friends and family.

In a crisis there are strong people we know we can rely on. Sometimes we are amazed at the fortitude of giving people. Sometimes they give and give and give tirelessly for days… months… years…

Then one day, when everyone else has been cared for and gone back to their normal lives, they find themselves alone on a back road, overcome by the emotions that have been piling up in their hearts.

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I’ll be honest. Our family has been through some tough battles in the last couple of years. We have come out victorious, seeing God step in and do miracles and provide in ways we never imagined. He is SO good and we are SO thankful! I am grateful that He gave me the strength to support other people when somebody had to do it. I am even more grateful for the ones who stood by me and held me up when I felt I didn’t have the strength to go on. There are still challenges, of course, but it’s comparatively smooth sailing right now, and the timing seems strange, but I’ve been realizing there is a backlog of emotion spilling out of my own closet that won’t stay shut anymore.

That’s what I saw in High River this time. Put it in the takes-one-to-know-one category. Life is back to normal for most people, and many of the friends and comforters and charity services have gone home. But now some of the toughest folk, the ones with the broadest shoulders, the ones everyone relied on, are having to pull off the freeway and do their own mourning. It’s a lonely business.

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Mourning and restoration can take a very long time. But when restoration comes, the newly blossoming trees will provide shade as townsfolk sit in their re-planted gardens and tell their children and grandchildren that although they were beaten down, perplexed, exhausted, emotional, and pushed beyond what they thought they could endure, that God never failed, and endurance has developed character, and that strength of character allows them to have the kind of hope that does not disappoint.

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When the healing’s done High River will be a city of refuge, of peace, of caring –and of love.

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