The summer heat arrived in July and thrust our lush west coast into a drought. Forest fires began their deadly run through the province. Every year we are forced to cope with massive fires that ravage our desiccated land under a relentless heat. Our summers are stronger, hotter and longer; our winters colder, moist and misty. There is a change in the air, a transformation in our environment we can no longer predict.
Sitting on a patio one evening, I watched the distant fires paint evocative pictures in the sunset. It was so beautiful, almost unreal, and when I snapped a photo, it looked like an oil painting imprinted in the lens. It took my breath away, and I was amazed that something so destructive could create something so beautiful – I really shouldn’t have been so surprised.
RA was imprinted in my body almost eight years ago, a destructive creature that twists our joints under the heat of its own fire, but the pictures that came out of fighting this illness are vibrant and beautiful. I’ve learned how strong I am in the face of disease. I’ve learned how to douse its intensity with my own retardant, to sift through the ruins, and excavate the beauty of living life my own way. I appreciate all the little things overlooked in a busy life. I make time for myself, my family and friends. I understand not to take life for granted because tomorrow is unpredictable, so I live for today, taking joy in the simplest things. The small moments, the brief moments are the most powerful. I learn something from those moments, see something I never saw before. It’s illuminating, a light that shatters the darkness.
In learning how to navigate the flames I have connected with other fighters who understand where I’ve been and where I’m going next. There’s a special community in chronic illness, and in that community, we find friends, advice and inspiration. Together we can rise out of the ashes and unearth a beautiful life amid the destruction. We learn how to look at life in a new way, with hope, compassion, understanding, and a perspective that points the way forward.
The rain finally arrived and the thick layer of campfire air that permeated our city finally dissipated, bringing a bit of relief to our burning province. I’ve learned a lot from RA. I’ve learned something beautiful can emerge from chronic illness – a picture of community, strength, courage, resilience and an opportunity to view life in a new way. Once you find your way through the haze, the fires of RA will shrink to a glowing ember, leaving behind an oil painting of a life preserved.