Sometime in the early hours of Christmas Day, a fire tore through a Main Street business in my hometown of Shellbrook, Sask.
There's nothing left of the convenience store that's been a staple of my town for nearly three decades.
I wasn't able to make it home for Christmas — the holiday rush kept me in Whistler until Dec. 29.
But I was able to see the wreckage first hand when I flew home for five days just before the New Year.
All that remains is a pile of burnt rubble.
I don't remember the last time I was inside it — or even thought about it for that matter — but something about seeing that pile of ash and smoking wood made me somewhat sentimental.
That was the place I rented movies in the days before Netflix, and smoked cigarettes in secret while I counted down the hours until I could drive.
And now it's gone, without warning or fanfare.
It's been seven months since I've been home — the longest extended absence in my life.
A lot has changed.
Storefronts are gone or unrecognizable.
People are married or worse.
Even as my plane took off from Vancouver to carry me halfway across the country, I knew the five days I would spend at home wouldn't be enough.
There are too many people to see and diverging lives to catch up on. A lot can happen in seven months, to the point where the people I knew when I left could be different people altogether.
Life doesn't stop when I go away.
Not for my sister — who gave birth to my third niece this past October while my other two grew like weeds — and not for my mother, who underwent minor surgery a few months back.
Life goes on, whether or not I'm around to be a part of it — which makes the five short days I spent frantically reinserting myself into the lives of my loved ones all the more desperate.
Seven months gone in the blink of an eye. My nieces are growing up without their uncle, my friends are settling in for good and my childhood haunts are burning to the ground.
For five days, I did everything in my power to see the people, hear the stories and share the laughs that have suddenly gone missing from my life.
It was exhausting, and just as I thought it might be, entirely not enough.
But looking back on it, I'm not sure it ever could be enough.
All the time in the world wouldn't be.
Over the years I've spent a lot of time contemplating the deeper meanings of life — who we are, why we're here and what we should spend our short time on this earth pursuing.
It's a broad topic and not one that usually yields any solid findings.
But the closest thing to a satisfying answer I've ever touched on is that life is about moments.
It's about big laughs and small victories. It's about setting goals and accomplishing them, and not dwelling on the plausibility of a vengeful God or a merciful afterlife.
Friends, family, relationships — or even just a really good party — nothing can last forever.
All we can really do is be glad for the moments that have made us who we are, and the friends and family who have made those moments memorable.
As I pack my bag and prepare to head back to Whistler, I know it won't be easy to leave this time, without any idea of when I might be back.
But the brief return to the world that has done so much to shape me has been worth it, however brief it may have been.
I don't know where these people will be the next time I see them. In some cases I wonder if I'll ever see them again.
But it's pointless to dwell on it.
I consider myself very fortunate for the time we've been given, and if some cruel fate dictates that our moments are up, then I guess that's the way it is.
And if I ever lose sight of the incendiary nature of life, I'll think of that convenience store — a hollowed-out husk, burned and beyond repair; a black and smoking reminder of how quickly everything can change, whether we're paying attention or not.