Humboldt Strong*

There been several large tragedies around the world this past year that have really affected me deeply. The recent shooting in Parkland, Florida was no exception. I am a high school teacher. While I didn’t personally know any of those victims, in another way, I knew those students. I see students just like those kids every day in my classrooms. I had so much I wanted to say about it, but I always feel like others express the way I’m feeling so much more eloquently or succinctly than I ever could. So I pulled those thoughts rolling around my head down and tucked them into my heart.

And then, in a moment of boredom last Saturday, I started scrolling through Twitter and an article about a bus crash caught my eye. Like many Canadians from coast to coast, my breath caught as I began to pour through the news coverage of the accident. As numbers became names and faces and the fatality count rose, my heart ached and has kept on aching. As I’ve followed the news of the accident and the response from across our great nation I paused for a minute to ask myself just why I (and I think so many others) feel so connected to this particular incident.

In truth, I didn’t personally know anyone on that bus. But in another way, I knew every single person on that bus. I am from a tiny town in Northern Ontario. A glorious tight-knit hockey town that I believe was the best place in the world to grow up. As a child, I spent many a Friday night at the arena with my grandfather watching the Timmins Golden Bears fly around the ice. The camaraderie and kinship felt in the stands was almost palpable, and the smell of fries cooking in an arena still feels like home to me.

Those boys on that bus were my friends at school. They were my friends’ brothers. The boys I had crushes on. The ones whose names I wrote inside of hearts on the inside of my Five Star notebooks. As I got older those Friday night outings became trips with my girlfriends as we watched the Timmins Majors play, secretly keeping our eyes on a particular number who currently had our hearts.

I didn’t know those coaches, but in another way, I knew those coaches. They were my ringette coaches–pushing us to places we didn’t know we could go, but they saw the potential for greatness that I couldn’t see. They were our rink Dads, tough on the outside, but with hearts bigger than they’d ever willingly admit. They were my friends’ fathers, and in a tight knit community, often like an extension of my own.

I didn’t know any of the twenty-nine people on that bus, but it feels like I did. And I think a lot of people across Canada are feeling the same way. But through the heartache of this past week I’ve watched something beautiful blooming, and it has made my profoundly proud to call myself Canadian.

I took the boys for a walk the other day in my little town in Southern Ontario, far removed from Saskatchewan where the accident occurred. As we walked through the neighbourhood, I saw home after home with hockey sticks adorning their front porches. Some had only one, others had many. All were honouring the memory of those lost. I’ve watched the pictures and messages pouring in on Facebook and Instagram, tributes to those that lost their lives and the families they left behind. As I’ve watched (and cried) I felt like I needed to say something… the feelings I’m feeling are too big to keep tucked inside my heart.

The amount of love and support being sent towards Humboldt this past week has felt almost electric. Despite all of our differences as a nation, I feel like this tragedy has united us again in some way, and reminded us all of what is truly important in life.

I saw an editorial cartoon posted yesterday that so succinctly captured what I’ve been feeling and have attempted to express. The picture is of a group of hockey players on the ice tending to a wounded player. The green and gold jerseyed wounded player from Saskatchewan is being held up and supported by the arms of  teammates wearing Red and White, each one representing a province and territory across our country. The play has stopped, and those who can’t physically assist the wounded player off the ice watch on in respect, love and support.

I may not have known the people on that bus, but I know them now. They will not be forgotten, and I hope they are continuing to chase their dreams on that big ice rink in the sky.

We may not be in Saskatchewan, but in our own way, we are all Broncos… and we stand with Humboldt.

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