I went to my first public vigil tonight. So many times lately, as the Kitchener mayor so rightly pointed out, the city square has been used as a gathering place for mourning and sadness. It felt odd to be in the crowd, like I was crashing the funeral of someone I didn’t know (mostly true, in its own way) in some place I had at best dubious right to be. I’m not a Muslim. But I *am* Canadian, and I have been saying for almost two years that we are facing becoming victims of the same waves of hate that are sweeping the states; we’re not so far removed that the free license being granted in America to hatespeech and hatecrime, to the increasingly rapid erosion of human rights (how has it only been NINE DAYS?), isn’t beginning to show its ugly face here. We’re not immune. And as one angry white young man with a military-grade rifle showed last night to a mosque filled with Canadian citizens at prayer, we’re not safe.
Canada hasn’t had a shooting like that since the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989, and while I was shocked, I was too young and too self-absorbed to really connect with what it meant to be singled out for some kind of minority, marginalized quality (in that case, being female) and to be gunned down just for being That One Thing. Even though I was a woman at a predominantly-engineering university myself, the same age as the victims. That one didn’t hit home nearly the same way, to my recollection. The Orlando shooting did, but I couldn’t get to the vigil, given the work schedule; I lit a candle in solidarity with the vigil, though, and sat all night with my queer clients as best I could. Last night it was Muslims, in a mosque that had already been targeted with hatecrime in the past year; tonight I had the convenience of a clear schedule, but beyond that, I felt like I needed to be there in support, for whatever my presence as a nameless face in the crowd might be worth to those who need it.
Tonight showed a strong crowd in the city square, a cultural mishmash as we expect Canadian cities to produce. We’re still so blind in our privilege, so falsely secure. I caught myself turning around at one point when I realized that, while I was responding to flashes going off from the balcony above us, what I was doing was scanning the skyline. I was actively looking for something that wasn’t there, that shouldn’t have been there, but that I was suddenly terrified might be. We’re Canadian. We just plain don’t know how to deal with that. I had a very vivid recollection when I realized I was looking for rooftop shooters; in 1999, when I was living in Rotterdam, I came across posters on the metro station walls one day that made me painfully aware that I was (relatively speaking) driving distance from the ACTIVE WAR ZONE that was Kosovo. Google tells me it’s a 24 hour drive, which is considerably more than I remember it being at the time, but recognizing abruptly that one is on the same continent, even a large-ish continent, as an active conventional war, without the comforting separation of vast oceanic bodies to create a safety buffer—that’s the feeling I had tonight. Proximal terror. It happened in Quebec City. At this point, there’s zero reason to stop it from happening here. Quebec City is only eight hours away by car; I know, I’ve done that drive a few times. That’s a helluva lot closer than Kosovo to Rotterdam.
I kept waiting for someone at the podium to talk about anger; they all spoke to sadness, some spoke to the hate behind the acts, many spoke to love. It wasn’t until Brice Balmer*, speaking for some kind of Interfaith collective in Cambridge IIRC, spoke of anger that I recognized I was waiting for someone to voice, and thereby validate, my own impotent rage. And maybe that’s why none of them did; they know way more about rage right now than I do, and if it seems impotent to them too, then their purpose becomes turning all that energy into something creative and sustaining. The shooter let hate and rage consume him. That is a path of madness and bitter brutality.
That is not my Canada. That isn’t the change I want to be in the world. And confronting my own rage is… well, at least it’s familiar. It’s something I have ample practice working with, for different reasons. Being told by those much closer to this grief that I am that it’s okay to let go of the anger and redirect the energy into love and supporting “diversity not division”, to building bridges instead of walls, to getting to know my community and those vulnerable facets huddled to the outside… that helped, once I was ready to hear them. The rage has its place, but it cannot be the fuel. The energy, yes; the emotion, no.
So once I get my own house in order, metaphorically speaking, I begin the work of reaching out — no, not “out to”, not this time, but rather, “reaching into” — my community to see where I can be of service. I have energy to offer, and compassion. I can work with people to help teach them how to separate emotion from energy, intent from action, and where owning the point of their own decisions becomes paramount in understanding why we would ever want to choose hate over love. I’ll do that work on myself first, because I’m a big proponent of “Physician, heal thyself”, then extend it to anyone who wants to have that conversation with me in and out of the counselling room. Where I can take it beyond that remains to be seen.
I can only dream this may be the last time we have to gather in grief this way. There is *so much* work to be done now, but it’s this or sit back and watch the world burn, and tonight I learned that I just can’t do that. I don’t WANT to do that.
As a Canadian, as a woman, as a member of my communities… I want to be better than that.
(*—Brice was also my Addictions professor at the seminary, the catalyst behind the branch of my path that led to my working therapeutically with those who have offended sexually.)