I’ve been thinking a lot lately about getting out, how people decide when it’s time to leave, whether it’s your house, your career, or your city. We like to pretend it’s rational. I don’t think that’s always the case.
Watching the residents of Fort McMurray throwing random things into their trucks and inching through a cinder-flaked choking haze, I thought smugly: I would leave first, before the mandatory evacuation. Waiting around is for chumps. It’s better to be the first to leave, the first to be laid off, the first to move. Before the jobs dry up, the opportunity dries up, before the very air dries up and your house burns to the ground. It’s better to get out. And by how vociferous I am about this, I know deep down I am worried, because I would stay. This time it’s different, I would think. Maybe the fire won’t get this far. I just have to hold out a bit longer and it will be OK. Then things will go back to normal. I know this because I am still in Saskatchewan, and the budget drops tomorrow. I don’t know what the budget will be like, but I can guess that it will not be good. It may be very bad. I know that the first wave to get out has passed, the second wave is passing and may already be gone. I know this is also me being prone to dramatics. You get through this or you don’t. You move or you don’t. You make up a billion-dollar resource revenue shortfall, or you don’t. You diversify your economy, or you don’t. You plan for the future, or you don’t. I can’t be the only one wondering whether opportunity really lies in other provinces with increasing GDP, or whether it’s better to double down on my sunk costs and stay here. (There’s a KFC joke, if you like.)
I cannot point my finger at suffering communities and say, Why don’t you just leave? It would be hypocritical of me to do so. It is difficult, to leave all you know. I’ve done it once, partially, to move away to university here. That was jarring enough, even with relatives living here already and being somewhat familiar with the city from family visits. It was an exceptionally soft transition, which tells you how little I have had to leave a place, and how unprepared I am to do so again.
It’s easy to get caught up in the minute-to-minute life, looking ahead to the evening, to Friday, to a long weekend, to a glass of wine, and ignoring the mounting smoke plume in the distance. I don’t know what other opportunities are elsewhere, but I’ve scraped a bit together, and what’s more, I know how to live here. It’s not so bad, I guess, and every so often I have a long weekend or a glass of wine. Maybe it’s not that I don’t know when to leave, it’s that through a series of imperceptible decisions, I am choosing to stay.