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A Little Faith in Humanity from Remembrance Day

Hi, lovely di-hards.

It’s been an emotional week, n’est-ce pas? Right around this time last Tuesday, there was a disbelieving dread building on my Facebook news feed. I could hardly bear to look at the actual stats. My daughter had strep throat; we all slept badly, and felt ill the next day – on so many levels. It was an Armageddon-y gloom.

And though that has not really gone away, there have been things to remind me that humanity is still kinda cool.

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I ran the Remembrance Day assembly last Friday, and as such spent several hours of the preceding Thursday creating an iMovie of my Grade 4 FI class’s collaboratively-written peace poem. Listening to their little-kid voices reading, line by line, words like “It’s friends and family and coming together for love/By calm, planting, and happiness” and “Humans are meant to be free and to walk… give love, help others,” and then all their voices together saying, “And stop war.”… It helped. It was comforting in a deep way.

I think we teachers are in the privileged position of seeing the best and the worst that kids have to offer. We are both jaded and optimistic – sometimes both these things, several times a day.

There had been some worry about behaviour during this assembly, since there were issues with noise level during the last assembly; the kids who were presenting had their feelings hurt by the not-so-focus of their schoolmates. And I have to say, it’s a thing. Many of us teachers are frustrated, constantly having to remind students that you don’t just yap all the time when it’s not your turn.

So for Remembrance Day, when there are usually quite a few community members present, there had been a lot of preparatory discussion in classrooms. The principal issued a reminder before classes came to the gym.

And then the kids blew our minds. They. Were. So. Quiet. Coming in, listening to each presentation, waiting in between… Even the wee kindergarteners. The minute of silence after the Last Post was incredible. A whole sea of kids making almost no sound. (I saw one child trying to distract his classmates with silent silliness, and they just ignored him. I was amazed.)

The last part of the assembly was the playing of “One Day” by Matisyahu. It’s a sad-but-happy song, and most of the kids know and love it, having learned it in Music class last year. When the song began, they were still incredibly quiet, unsure if they should sing, but gradually we could hear their voices joining in and getting stronger – and only with respect. It was this perfect rising tide of youthful hope. I know most of us adults got tears in our eyes at the sound. I couldn’t even look out at the kids, they were so beautiful at that moment.

If you want, try listening yourself, and imagine hundreds of sweet childish voices singing “When negativity surrounds, I know someday it’ll all turn around.”

Makes you think it really will.

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P.S. I’ve decided I’m going to try NaBloPoMo again, but changing the dates. There was no way the first two weeks of November were going to work, so I’m starting today and will be attempting to post every day through December 15th. See you tomorrow!

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Thanks To The Gunman

Art by Bruce MacKinnon
Art by Bruce MacKinnon

To the gunman who bloodied Parliament Hill yesterday: thank you for making a statement.

Actually, you made several statements. But are they the ones you meant to make?

Whenever someone famously and violently takes a life, I wonder what brought the perpetrator to think that killing another human is the best option.

What did you intend to accomplish? Since you’re dead – and you surely knew that was a likely outcome – we can’t ask you.

Currently, we know you were born Canadian. You had a criminal record. You had long black hair and wore a scarf with a distinctive pattern. You were disconnected from your parents.

Maybe you idolized ISIL and wanted to commit “heroic” terror.

Maybe the violence that killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent inspired you.

Maybe you suffered from mental illness and needed to destroy something.

Maybe you wanted to see how much panic you could kindle.

Maybe you think guns are awesome, and wanted to shoot stuff like a tough guy.

Unfortunately for you, the intended meaning of your statement is unclear.

However, your ill-conceived, muddled message did do something for Canada.

You didn’t succeed in panicking the country. You didn’t unite us in hatred. You didn’t reveal us to be passive.

You made the nation think, instigating a productive, earnest discussion. Today, more than on any Remembrance Day or Election Day in memory, Canadians are soberly pondering what Canada is, and what we want it to be.

Yes, there are citizens using you to justify their personal Islamophobia – for which moderate, peaceful Muslim-Canadians certainly aren’t thanking you.

But mostly, I see thoughtful questions, careful consideration, and a calm pride born of remembering what makes our home special.

You’ve reminded us how extraordinary and beautiful it is that our government buildings have been simply open to the public all this time. We’re noticing the deep symbolism of soldiers guarding our national war memorial, unarmed. Because Canadians know that more guns do not equal more freedom, we affirm that our openness is not naïveté – we have chosen it; we cherish it.

You’ve demonstrated that cowardly violence does not necessarily result in a hysterical, aggrandized media frenzy; our CBC did us proud with calm, pragmatic reporting throughout the lockdown – no fear-mongering or jumping to conclusions. Twitter and Facebook followers philosophically discussed CBC’s questions “Is Canada changing? Has it already changed?”

We’re talking about justice, and whether our justice system is there for its people – when dramatic quasi-political deeds turn tragic; when acts of hatred go unchecked; when Aboriginal women go missing; when abuses of power go unabated; when environmental destruction goes unpunished. Our system is flawed, but we know justice is a process. We’re unwilling to abandon rational thinking for alarmism.

I admit I’m really sad about what you did. It hit our family close to home. My husband and several longtime friends were formerly Argyll reservists. In a slightly shifted reality, your victim could have been one of them. And obviously, the death of Corporal Nathan Cirillo represents the two worst parental nightmares: loss of a son, and loss of your child’s father. It is a heartbreaking tragedy.

I’m sad for you, too. Your life also ended yesterday, and while Cirillo’s death was clearly not in vain, I believe yours was. When you committed your life to hatred, you wasted it. You and Cirillo were young Canadians with the potential for remarkable lives in this country – and you ended them both far too early.

I’m also sad that you’ve further complicated an already-thorny question. As a pacifist, I’m distraught by ISIL’s atrocities, struggling with my belief that war is not the answer. I don’t want Canadian soldiers “taking a combat role” (read “killing people”) when the killing is so gargantuan already. Your twisted message has strangely strengthened both sides of this national argument.

Thank goodness Canadians have kept their wits.

Right now, they are sending caring, hopeful messages to each other, tweeting their most beautiful perspectives of Ottawa; Canada’s leaders of all political stripes are embracing each other; citizens are engaging in free expression.

And love. In Canada and abroad, people are nullifying your vitriol, defiantly scattering LOVE to the four winds, knowing it’s the more powerful force.

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Photo shared on Twitter by Danielle Donders, @DaniGirl
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The Gaza Doctor shall not hate – even if he deserves to.

Last week I attended a talk given by a man named Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, also known as “the Gaza doctor”. Before I went, everything I knew about this man came from the flier advertising the event:

Distinguished physician Izzeldin Abuelaish MD, MPH was the first Palestinian doctor to receive a staff position at an Israeli hospital, where he treated both Israeli and Palestinian patients. He is the author of the bestselling book I Shall Not Hate, which chronicles his life growing up in Gaza and the development of his outlook on life, health and peace in Israel and Palestine. Dr. Abuelaish’s three daughters were killed during the War on Gaza in January 2009, minutes before he was to speak live on an Israeli TV program. Having his resolve to live without hate affirmed, he has dedicated his work to health and wellbeing in the world. He also established “Daughters for Life Foundation” in his daughters’ honour to promote the education of young women scholars.”

the gaza doctor dr. izzeldin abuelaish

That was enough to make me want to hear him speak. It’s not often that I’ve had the chance to hear from someone who has an actual grasp of what peace should mean. Quakers talk a lot about peace, but in Canada there are not many of us (thankfully) who have personally experienced real, actual… NOT peace.

At the talk, we were given a more thorough introduction, including excerpts from the video below. (The first five minutes will tell you a lot.)

Dr. Abuelaish took the stage as our ears still echoed with the sounds of his own sobbing, originally heard via cell phone on national Israeli TV three years ago, only moments after Israeli bombs ripped through his own home, killing three of his eight children and one of his nieces. His composure, when he reached the podium, was remarkable – but not, I think, completely intact. Continue reading “The Gaza Doctor shall not hate – even if he deserves to.”

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