Lac-Mégantic Train Wreck
July 10, 2013
As does anyone, I sometimes wonder why one event affects me more deeply than another. The news of last weekend's train wreck in Lac-Mégantic leaves me heavy-hearted, even more than does the Boston Marathon bombing about two miles from my home in Cambridge.
I spent most of last summer in a house on Lac Mégantic about six miles from the town, where about forty people are still missing. (The hyphen in the town's name distinguishes the town from the lake.) I have washcloths in my bathroom and, for work, in my car that I bought in the Dollarama; that building no longer exists. The places where I bought my groceries, where I bought my paint, where I accessed the internet at the tourist office (which was the old train depot) are all in the "Red Zone" that is still closed to any but emergency personnel; many of the buildings have been blown away.
The streets and stores in Lac-Mégantic have the same names as did my classmates in French-Canadian Catholic grammar school and high school in Fall River, Massachusetts. There is no shortage of Lapointes. Everyone speaks the same language that I spoke, albeit very briefly, before I learned to speak English. These are not, however, the reasons why the tragedy has hit me the way it has.
The reason is that the people of Lac-Mégantic smile —or they used to smile. I have never been anywhere where people smile so much. The lake is a tourist destination (ironically, about only ten driving miles from the nearest border crossing, not for Americans but for Quebecers), but that fact does not explain the ubiquity of happy faces. I have been to other tourist spots of course, and I have never seen anything like it.
It is the loss of that joie de vivre that disturbs me so much.