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Opinion: Whistler ‘orphans’ and the long way home

What’s it like to move in the other direction?
The long way home.

The Point Artist-Run Centre on Alta Lake has, for years now, hosted a fun event that has always warmed the cockles of my mushy heart: Orphans’ Thanksgiving.

Now, “orphans” is not meant here in the literal sense, of course. With so many Whistler locals far from their homes and loved ones, the Point had the savoir-faire of hosting an evening of live music, performance and, like any Thanksgiving, a seam-splitting feast of epic proportions.

The night isn’t likely to replace the experience of breaking bread with your actual flesh and blood (or those awkward dinner chats with the weird cousin, for that matter), but we have long been a town that puts immense value in the family we choose. In a community full of transplants, that’s important. Vital, even.

They say home is where the heart is, and with Whistlerites’ tendency for putting their heart and soul into everything they do, it’s no wonder we take such pride in our adopted home. That sense of pride is something I’ve always appreciated about our strange little mountain town—even if it means I sometimes bear the brunt of that fiery passion in my job reporting on Whistler. As a journalist, listening to the frustrations of your community is a natural part of the job, and on those days when it can all feel a bit much, I try to remember that, nine times out of 10, the anger people feel at—pick your poison—the municipality or Vail Resorts or Pique itself is really just a reflection of the love so many folks have for this unparalleled place.

By and large, most of us have volunteered to be here, and we’ve sacrificed some of the usual trappings and comforts of a more “normal” community because of what we get back in return, so of course we care. In my opinion, the alternative—apathy—would be far worse.

All that is to say: against the odds, we Whistlerites have done a pretty damn good job of carving out a sense of home for ourselves in a tourism town that, at the end of the day, isn’t really designed for us.

But what’s it like to move in the other direction? You know, heading back, not to the home we chose, but the one we didn’t. It’s something I’ve been contemplating the past few days of a remote work week, as I’ve bounced around from one end of southern Ontario to the other, visiting family and old friends along the way.

I, like I’m sure is true for many Whistlerites, couldn’t wait to get out of dodge as soon as I graduated high school, desperate to experience something, anything, that was different from what my hometown could offer. (What up, Guelph!) I’m positive it’s the same yearning that fed my appetite for adventure and travel over the years, and, ultimately, at least part of the reason why I decided to uproot my life to build a new one in Whistler.

I’ve always prided myself on my independence, another quality Whistlerites possess in spades, and when you’ve chosen a life for yourself that is geared more towards risk and adventure than familiarity and stability, I think it’s easy to spin a certain narrative that helps you come to terms with everything you’ve given up in the name of that pursuit.

This week, I got to spend a few peaceful nights at my mom’s house on the shores of Lake Erie, the longest time we’ve spent together in literally years, and I admitted something to her that wasn’t easy for me to say: it feels like she doesn’t truly know who I’ve become as an adult.

Her response came quicker than I expected: You’re absolutely right, I don’t.

For all the time I’ve spent chasing a life that is interesting above all else, I’ve avoided watering the very roots meant to keep me planted firmly in the ground. I’m not going to chalk all that up to the lifestyle I’ve chosen—like most families, mine’s got enough baggage to fill a metropolitan airport—but I do think there is something inherent to the types of people attracted to places like Whistler and the life they provide that prevents us from going home again. Truly going home. And I don’t mean just physically.

As I get older, and my parents look just a little bit greyer every time I’m fortunate enough to see them, I’ve begun making these morbid little calculations in my head that no son or daughter wants to make, but inevitably will: If I make it home, say, once a year, how many more times will I get to see my mom and dad? Ten? Fifteen? Maybe 20, if I’m lucky?

Thankfully, along with this frightening realization comes with it another important epiphany that I imagine only gets stronger as we and the ones we love inch closer to death: all the bullshit doesn’t really matter. All those petty resentments and avoidant patterns we cling onto so dearly and treat so seriously will only weigh us down in the end.

So, if you’re like me, and you’ve managed to craft an existence that satisfies your utmost desires, then I salute you. Just don’t do it at the expense of the relationships that matter most, because that’s a level of regret no Whistler orphan should have to bear.

OK, I think I’m gonna go hug my mom now.