Remembering Canada

We are all Canadians.

At a time like this, following events such as those that we were all rapt witnesses to yesterday, it’s at once easy to make that proud announcement and difficult to remember what that really means. That’s understandable. Living through something as horrific, shocking and terrifying as yesterday’s shooting downtown causes us all to fall back on our emotions, our wounded pride, and our desperate need to make sense of the senseless.

Corporal Nathan Cirillo is what everyone would want Canada to look like. Young, good looking, fiercely proud of his country, selfless, kind to his neighbors and friends, an animal lover, father and fitness enthusiast, Cpl Nathan Cirillo seems the perfect image of what we are as Canadians. He was proud to stand honour guard at the National War Monument, as is obvious from the many heartbreaking pictures flooding Twitter and Facebook of Cirillo before yesterday’s tragedy.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau is nothing like what we want to think of as Canadian. A troubled man with a criminal past and substance abuse issues that turned to hate and embraced an ideology that glorifies violence and fear, he was not at all what we think of proudly as one of our own. It’s impossible to understand the utterly alien thoughts that must have been going through his head when he got out of his car, strode up to Cpl Cirillo, and brutally gunned the young man down. How do you even begin to understand something that can only be understood as evil?

We are all Canadian.

I once took a course in Canadian literature, and throughout the year we kept returning to the theme of challenging the notions we have of our national identity and our identity as Canadians. Now, especially, people instinctively feel what it means to be Canadian, and what Canada represents. We see it in the things we are learning about Cpl Cirillo, in the bravery and selflessness of the civilians and first responders who raced to try and save his life, and the courage of those who ended Zehaf-Bibeau before he could inflict a deeper wound on our nation. Leave the academic debate about history and so on for another day; we each felt what we are as Canadians, yesterday.

We are the things that the gunman was not, yesterday. We are a proud people, caring and compassionate, reasoned and humble. We believe in fairness and justice. We believe in equality and acceptance. We believe in freedom. That is Canada. That is not what we saw in Zehaf-Bibeau’s brutal actions.

We are all Canadians.

Nobody should feel sympathy for the gunman. He doesn’t deserve that, for the pain he has caused. But, we should feel compassion. Not for Zehaf-Bibeau, but for the unknown others who could become like him, if not for that compassion. It’s hard, so unutterably hard, to find that emotion within the tumult of many others that yesterday stirred up. We want to be angry, we want to blame, we want to lash out and cause hurt to those we feel caused our own. Compassion isn’t natural to find within the mess of emotions an injury and insult like yesterday stirs up. We want to dehumanize the one that caused our pain, want to cast him as so irretrievably other that we can make better sense out of ourselves and how something so terrible could happen to us. We want to call him “radical” and “terrorist,” because those are labels that shine a spotlight on the darkness that the monster hides in. Compassion can’t be found in there, anywhere. It can’t live in this hurt and confusion.

But, it has to, and we need to be able to find it in the darkness. We are all Canadians, and that’s what that means.

We need to find compassion for those wandering lost and confused in our complicated, crazy and frightening world, and find ways of healing them. They are the ones looking for somewhere to belong, to make sense, and for something to take away their fears. Hatred is such an incredible heat, it can burn through fear. That’s why some of us are reaching for it right now. But, all that hatred, bombs, labels and distrust can do is breed more of the same. That’s what the monsters want. They want us to forget the things that make us Canadian. They want us to become more like them, to make us hate and be hateful. If they can do that, they’ve won, no matter how many of them we kill. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that if we say killing a hundred, or a thousand Canadians won’t take away Canada, killing thousands of those we blame won’t take away what they represent either. Take away from one Canadian, or ten, what it is to be Canadian, and you’ve inflicted a much more serious wound.

I’m not a praying man, so I’ll instead issue my deepest, most heartfelt hopes, that we can remember we are all Canadian. We are not the monsters. What it is to be Canadian, what makes me proud to be Canadian, is all of the things that makes us not like the monsters. Don’t let them change who we are, to become more like them. Don’t let them make us hate, and treat others heartlessly, and break apart our society into suspicious camps of Us and Them. It would be easy to do, because we’re wounded right now, and afraid, but we don’t walk away from something because it’s hard or because we have to work at it. We buckle down, we dig deep, we find the courage and resolve in ourselves, and we do what is right.

Because, we are all Canadian.

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1 comment so far

Well said. Well written.

October 24th, 2014 at 12:39 am

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