A Few final words
When I arrived in Jasper nearly one year ago, I tried to delineate some clear lines between my public and private life. I tried to keep some things just for myself, but that proved impossible to do, ultimately. It’s only recently, though, that I’ve realized how futile the effort was.
So I want to be open here, because I think it’s important. It’s probably also a bit easier since this is my last week at the Fitzhugh, and I will be leaving Jasper on Saturday, so in some sense I feel freer to speak candidly. But mostly I’ve realized that I don’t need to hide certain parts of my life any more.
My main goal here is to explain why I’m leaving in the most honest possible terms, and hopefully to convey that none of it has to do with this community or this place, which have been nothing but amazing to me. I know how it can come across in a small town when a newspaper continues to turn over staff, how it can make it seem that the community is somehow not good enough to keep reporters and editors around, but that’s simply not the case here. If anything, Jasper has been more than I could have ever asked for, and I will explain why in a moment.
In my introductory Last Word last year, I made reference to “family issues” that led me to turn down the editor position with the Fitzhugh initially before a sudden change in circumstance which led me to sheepishly ask if the job was still available. That’s true, but it’s hardly the whole truth.
The more full story is that it was a time of crisis for me and for my young marriage. My father-in-law had been suddenly killed in a car crash, leaving behind a widow and two young sons in Manitoba. My wife, who was incredibly close with her father, was devastated and deeply struggling.
We had decided to leave our home in B.C. for numerous reasons at that time and, as much as I wanted to move to Jasper and work for the Fitzhugh, my wife didn’t want to be here. She wanted to return to Manitoba and help take care of her father’s children, our little brothers.
I agreed, even though I had no firm job prospects in Manitoba at the time. My marriage was my top priority and there was no question that family simply came first in this situation.
The big change came just days after we arrived in Winnipeg. My wife suddenly announced she didn’t want to be with me any more. I was taken by complete surprise, and what ensued was the darkest and most difficult period of my life.
The first 48 hours I spent stunned, barely able to function. Within a week, I had pulled myself together enough to ask for the Fitzhugh job back, pack up my things (again!) and drive back across the Prairies to move to Jasper.
The first six months here were incredibly difficult, personally. I couldn’t make sense of my wife’s behaviour. She wouldn’t quite pull the trigger and end our marriage, and I clung to whatever hope I could of salvaging it. This nearly consumed me and, if it weren’t for my job and this amazing environment, I think it probably would have.
Spending my days with my talented co-workers at the Fitzhugh, engaging with the community and putting together newspapers that we could be truly proud of, gave me a reason to get up each morning. Spending my evenings and weekends exploring what seemed like the never-ending natural wonders of this park gave me a sense of peace that I have always found in the mountains and that I desperately needed at this particular time.
At every other moment, I was locked in the struggle to save my marriage. As it turned out, that struggle had been lost even before it started. If I knew then what I know now, the process would have been much simpler and shorter.
The funny thing is that this all came to a head in March, and by April I had come to accept the situation as best I could. I then scheduled to spend a long weekend in Vancouver with a good friend of mine to get my head right and planned to return to Jasper with a new attitude and a fresh commitment to this place and this job.
It was that weekend I learned the Fitzhugh had been sold.
Since then, as you will have noticed, the newspaper has undergone many changes. These are by necessity. The previous way of doing business just wasn’t sustainable. That’s a reality that newspapers across the world, regardless of size, regularly face these days.
And while I completely understand the change in direction at the Fitzhugh, it’s just not what I signed on for. I wish the new ownership and my remaining colleagues all the best but, for this complicated blend of personal and professional reasons, the time has come for me to move on.
I have moved to plenty of new places in my life but when I came to Jasper last year, it was the first time that I had arrived in a place where I knew no one. And while it was an unfamiliar place, I truly believe Jasper ended up saving me. This town, this community, and this environment will always hold a special place in my heart for that reason.
The above lyrics are from a Weakerthans song (more of a poem set to music, really) that helped me through an earlier, difficult period of my life, one that now seems easy by comparison to the past year. Still, from time to time, I listen to that song and remember the strength it gave me then. I know I will look back at Jasper in a similar way.
So now I have spilled the things I meant before to hide away, hopefully without too many platitudes or overwrought sentiment. Permanence and certainty remain fleeting, but I think those are just illusions anyway.
DISCLAIMER: The Last Word is an opinion column, it is meant to provoke thought and debate. As such, any opinions written here are the writer’s own.