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#NaBloPoMo, Day 17: Grateful for #LoveOverFear

Yesterday, after a weekend of global shock and grief and feverish discussion over the Paris attacks, a Toronto woman was attacked from behind by two men while on her way to pick up her children at school. They pulled violently on her head scarf, took her down and beat her up. They accused her of being a terrorist and told her to go back to her country.

The woman is Muslim. THIS IS HER COUNTRY. She was born here, attended the same school her kids now go to.

The men are white. They’re also doing a great job of appearing cowardly, bitter, ignorant, immature, and bigoted – not to mention violent. They obviously think this is “their” country. What they’ve done, quite neatly, is aligned themselves with the terrorists. I’m not sure they will have picked up on the irony, though.

What I’m grateful for today is love. This woman and her family are surrounded by a community that has come together in support and caring, because that’s what they’re about. They understand a few key things:

  1. Muslims do not equal terrorists.
  2. Acts of hatred do not benefit anyone, including the perpetrators.
  3. You can’t fight hate with more hate.

love over fear

Once upon a time, I lived in France. I loved it there. I love French history and culture and language, I love sharing things I have learned with my students, and I miss so many wonderful people that I met while I was in France.

I was distraught, to say the least, to hear about the attacks.

But on one level… I wasn’t completely surprised. In 2001, segregation and disparity between white native Français and non-white immigrants (mostly from north Africa) was quite hostile in some areas, and it was unexpected and upsetting to me; from what I’ve heard, relations have only gotten worse since then. When I found a video of the La Marseillaise to show to my students last year, I cringed at the recent YouTube comments from French people who champion the lyrics about watering their furrows with the impure blood of the enemy, in connection to Muslim immigrants. I thought, It’s 2015. What’s wrong with you? So I have been uncomfortable about the “I Stand With France” thing.

Let me be clear: I absolutely stand with those French citizens who actually believe in Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, and live accordingly, peacefully, with all those who call France home. Many, many of them do. I also stand with all of those people who lost a loved one, and those who experienced the physical and emotional trauma of those senseless, monstrous acts of violence committed in Paris. This should never have happened. My heart is with these victims.

But my heart is also with countless victims of terrorism from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria, Ukraine, Pakistan, Afghanistan… and on and on. It breaks my heart that there are still so many humans on this planet who believe that blowing apart other humans is an acceptable way to convey a message.

I know the world’s military forces are in high gear. I know people are more full of anger than ever. I know the Islamic State fundamentalists are committing evil and must be stopped. But I can’t help thinking that every time we react with more slaughter, we’re cutting off the head of that jihadist hydra, helping radicalize more people, doing exactly what terrorists are hoping and expecting we’ll do.

I always feel like I sound naïve, even foolish, when I talk about love that includes not bombing the hell out of irrational terrorists whose goal is propagating fear and mayhem.

That’s why this video filled me with gratitude today. This is what we need to see in 2015. In this climate, it’s rational and revolutionary.

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Dear Jian Ghomeshi: you inspired my list of heroes. Now what?

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Dear Jian,

In March 2013, I was inspired to write a blog post entitled “Living Canadian Heroes.” I had been moved by the interview I’d just listened to on Q – the one you had with Stompin’ Tom Connors, replayed on the occasion of his death.

I remember thinking how often we talk about Canadian heroes who are not alive – how it’s somehow easier to call someone a hero once they’re gone, and how we should be celebrating those people who are making Canada better every day, right now – people who represent Canada with integrity, thoughtfulness, respect, and skill.

You have been one of my Living Canadian Heroes for a long time. That blog post is still sitting in my drafts, for myriad reasons. Now, I am feeling frankly disillusioned about it.

I remember talking about you with my sister one time. She wasn’t a huge fan of yours – thought you were a bit pretentious or conceited or whatever. I defended you: “But he’s AWESOME. He can interview anyone, and he’s knowledgeable about everything, and he asks amazing questions, and all kinds of people just open up to him, and plus Moxy Früvous, hello?? He’s a CANADIAN ICON.”

When the news broke last weekend that you and CBC were breaking up, I was genuinely upset.

I have been struggling to write about it ever since, but I’ve been paralyzed, watching the hope/grief scale tip inexorably toward the side where you are actually an asshole.

At first, like all your fans, I wanted to think that the CBC had made a mistake. I thought: There is no Q without Jian.

But then, I deeply love my CBC Radio, and I have always trusted it to do its research. Back when you were a teenager obsessing over Bowie, I was a wee nerdy kid already listening to Ted O’Reilly on “Stories and Music for Children,” Jay Ingram on “Quirks and Quarks,” and Jurgen Gothe on “DiscDrive.” That connection was there long before you were, and it remains.

All the same, I wanted to believe your Facebook post, so seemingly earnest (except I wanted to forget your use of the word “jilted” – a distinctly un-classy term, for you). My first impression was: who gives a crap if he’s kinky in the bedroom? Not my business, and after all, BDSM is a notoriously misunderstood form of sexual expression.

But somehow, I couldn’t find the conviction to make a comment of support.

As more opinions poured in, I wanted to remind folks – aren’t we supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? Still, I couldn’t write about it –  because something was off.

Then, more and more stories, more women coming forward, more supporters backtracking. Loyalty fizzling. Worst-case scenario looking increasingly plausible. The sleaziness that was, apparently, common knowledge in the national arts industry was shocking to the rest of us suckers… but somehow still believable.

At this point, the scale has tipped. Now, I’m finally able to write, even though it’s all been said. Even if what I write here is now irrelevant or over-discussed, I have to process this for myself.

At the risk of sounding maudlin: it feels like we, your international audience, have been cheated on. The evidence looms large that the person we thought we knew and loved has been doing slimeball things for who-knows-how-long. We’re reeling, wondering how we could have failed to see it. We’re realizing our entire history with you is tainted, and we’re questioning whether all our memories involving you are valid or even worth keeping. There were moments where we hoped it could still somehow turn out to be just a big misunderstanding, or even a bad dream.

But at this point, I don’t see how any kind of “misunderstanding” conclusion could fix this. This kind of chronic violence can’t be blamed on a misinterpretation of BDSM, or a false inference of consent. This isn’t just a bunch of “jilted” women getting mad and conspiring against you. Those who have gone public are not the vengeful connivers you describe; they just want your audience to know that there are many cats to exit the bag.

What were you thinking all this time?

Maybe you thought what you were doing really was fine. A delusion of that magnitude, superimposing enjoyment over the pain of your sexual partner, is a serious health issue. A case of hyperinflated ego that has squeezed your brain, perhaps, resulting in galactically stupid behaviour.

Maybe this is an addiction, a mental health issue you’ve struggled with. But in that case, wouldn’t a reasonable person seek help? Wouldn’t there be remorse?

Maybe you knew it was bad, and you didn’t give a shit. Or felt you were untouchable in your stardom. Which surpasses the “asshole” category. That kind of duplicitous depravity is actually filed under “evil.”

Your unsuspecting former fans will not be able to brush this off for the sake of your past work. Because unlike Sean Penn, Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, Sean Connery, and any number of other celebrities who are still popular despite violent track records, we didn’t know you were in the acting business. Your popularity was based on you being, ostensibly, you.

Ugh.

It sucks that you were so great at your job. You really could converse with anyone – you talked to Joni Mitchell, Mike Tyson, Taylor Swift, and Justin Trudeau with equal grace. You were eminently knowledgeable, intelligent, adaptable, insightful, charismatic. A champion of all the right things. I was proud to have you represent us all, as one of the most recognizable public broadcasters Canada has ever had.

I hate that if I ever hear one of your interviews in future, I will be listening for deceit and misogyny, and thinking about how your oh-so-listenable voice must trigger ugly flashbacks for a lot of women.

And Moxy Früvous… oh. God. You will not destroy The Gulf War Song or Fell In Love for me. And breaking into “your” version of Green Eggs and Ham is all that gets me through that confounded story some days. Even if you were already a reprobate in your musician days, you sure could sing one-quarter of a beautiful song. I hate that you have befouled those songs, and betrayed your bandmates.

At least, not unlike the shooter in Ottawa, through your dishonour you have provoked a useful conversation in this country – this one about rape culture and violence against women, still all too pervasive, even in Canada.

And at least we can be confident that the CBC will find someone brilliant – and decent – to replace you. It was a relief to find out that your opening essays – which have awed me on many occasions – are not actually written by you. A lot of extremely talented people contributed to your success, and will continue to do so with someone better. (While you try to get a date on some other continent.)

I can now assuredly say that I’m looking forward to it.

Signed,

Dilovely

P.S. I was really sorry to hear that your dad died. Now, I’m just hoping it means he was spared the knowledge that his son is not one to be proud of after all.

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Are police officers supposed to be scary?

If you’re Ontarian, or even Canadian, you’ve probably heard about Sammy Yatim, the 18-year-old who was shot dead by police a couple weeks ago on an empty Toronto streetcar. You’ve probably heard that he was armed with a knife, that he was acting threatening, and that he was shot at nine times. (Eight of the shots are said to have hit him.) And you’ve almost certainly heard that Constable James Forcillo has been charged with second-degree murder in Yatim’s death.

In the car with my four-year-old, a piece came on the news about a protest being held by the families of people who had been killed by police. (This kid has really started listening to the news, and often comments on what he hears.)

“Killed by police?” he said. “The police don’t kill, they rescue.”

That’s verbatim. Broke my heart.

So I commenced an awkward explanation: police officers carry guns, and sometimes when they’re on duty, they use them… and guns can kill people, so sometimes that happens.

He thought about that. “Mummy, I never want to meet the police in person.”

“Oh, honey, you don’t have to worry if you meet a police officer. They’re not going to hurt you. They’re here to keep you safe.” I reminded him that his Uncle R is a police officer and a really nice person – that most of them are.

But he insisted: “I just don’t want to meet them.”

It makes me think of the little kids at my school who cried with fear when the police officers visited. Mind you, there are children who cry and dramatize over any old thing (my own almost-kindergartner included), but it still seems sad. There are local officers who come to the school to talk about bicycle safety, and they’re always lovely and sincere, and yet some kids are scared.

 US_Navy_060830-N-8907D-010_Officer_Diane_Branch_with_the_Chesapeake_Police_Department_takes_children's_fingerprints_during_the_Ident-a-Kid_program_held_at_Naval_Medical_Center_Portsmouth

I still remember the time a police officer visited my class when I was a kindergartner myself. He wore a blue shirt and had a fancy hat, and mostly I remember his shoes were very, very shiny.

My husband and I were recently discussing this topic. Sean has been both a corporal in the Canadian Armed Forces and a correctional officer in an Ontario Detention Centre. He knows some things about uniforms and weapons and boys’ clubs and the psychology of violence. I asked his perspective on all this. This is what he had to say.

I think it’s right that the officer was charged with murder. I read that 15 officers have been charged with murder since 2008, all acquitted. The charge has never stuck to any of them, but the consensus is that the video evidence is overwhelming in this case.

It has been true forever that there’s an omertá* feeling within police departments all over the world. It’s disconcerting, especially in a democracy, that people who are given, by society, the goal of protecting society, and the right to use deadly force when necessary, can abuse it with impunity. Of course, because we’re human beings, there are bound to be times when deadly force is used inappropriately, but there need to be consequences for that, just as there are for anyone else who uses deadly force inappropriately.

But within the police department it seems there is a different standard. Let’s say I – a normally law-abiding citizen – used deadly force on someone who was going to rob my house. In Canada, I would be charged with murder. (Maybe not in the States, I’m not sure, because their gun laws are crazy,** but in Canada I would be charged with murder.) And a police officer would come and arrest me.

But if a police officer kills someone who appears threatening, no other officer goes up and says “You just committed a crime, you’re under arrest.”

In the Yatim case, there were six officers there. It is supremely obvious from the video that the constable acted way outside legal use of force precedents. So in any other situation – if he had been a civilian – the police officer nearest would have turned around and arrested him for murder. But in this situation, even though all of them were there and they all witnessed it, none of them turned around and said “Whoa. What are you doing? You’re under arrest for murder.”

Why not?

If we give you that responsibility, you need to uphold it. It’s a big thing. You’re paid well, you’re given this massive responsibility and the power that goes with it, but you need to understand that if you go into that kind of work, you’re going to be held up to a particular standard, or at the very least, the same standard as the general public.

Police officers are not soldiers. Soldiers are ostensibly in combat zones surrounded by potential enemies. A police officer is not. But we’re getting into this mentality of the “war on crime”, the “war on drugs”, etc., and many police officers I think have that mentality of going into a war zone, of being surrounded by bad guys who are out to get you, and that’s simply not the case in a place like this.

But if you see everyone as a bad guy, of course you’re going to shoot the kid with a knife. On an empty streetcar. Nine times. Absolutely ridiculous.

I think that if he’s found anything but guilty, there are gonna be riots – as there should be. We cannot allow police officers – those to whom we give the power to use guns – to kill other people casually in the course of their duties. We cannot allow them to utilize that force without major consequences if it’s not done properly.

There’s no excuse for this. The kid was cornered on an empty TTC car. Nobody – not the officers, nor any member of the public – was in any danger. So there was zero reason to do this. NONE. The situation would have been different if he’d visibly had a gun out; then yes, the officers could reasonably say they didn’t know if he would point it at them and fire. But it’s a knife. I mean, by all accounts it was a little jackknife. For God’s sake. He probably couldn’t even throw it at you and do any harm.

Why couldn’t those six officers just wait him out? It seems to me, whenever I see videos of police officers nowadays, they no longer seem trained to deescalate. They actually seem trained to do the opposite. They always seem to talk to people in this overly authoritative voice, not quite yelling but very strong, and to present themselves as bigger than they are, and they sort of move forward as a group, deliberately intimidating.

And in certain situations that’s warranted, but it seems they use these tactics in every situation. And that’s not cool. It’s not their job. And that’s the thing that police officers need to realize. Their job is there because the public allows it. The scariest thing would be – and we seem to be heading in this direction – a feeling among police officers that they have a right to be here, whether the public says so or not. And that cannot ever be the case. Because that’s how fascist states and police states come into being. As soon as a police force realizes “Hey, we’re the only ones around with guns, so we can do what we want,” then you get Egypt. You get Syria.

{I asked him his opinion on the weapons used by police officers in Ontario.}

They carry way too many rounds. First of all, it’s heavy – I’m not sure why you’d want to carry all those rounds – and second of all, it’s completely unnecessary. Just like the all-black uniform, the hip holster. Again, it’s part of this uniform that looks intimidating and scary: “We’re here for business, and our business is kicking ass and taking names…” and this sort of macho B.S.

And yeah, it’s totally unnecessary. We’re not in Beirut, we’re not in South Central L.A. Even there, I’m not sure how necessary it is. But certainly in Toronto and Southwestern Ontario, all the places I grew up, it’s not necessary. You’re never getting into a firefight where you’re going to fire all – whatever it is – fifteen rounds in your pistol and drop a mag and slap another one in to fire fifteen more rounds.

Unless you like to fire nine rounds into lightly armed young boys… in which case, maybe you do need all those rounds.

The key here is awareness and training. Officers need to be trained to deescalate situations. I was actually commended a number of times as a jail guard, by my captains, because I wasn’t the type of guard who went in, chest out, looking for trouble, wanting an inmate to say or do something so that I could come down hard on him. I learned how to talk, how to deflate potential trouble. I don’t know, maybe other guards thought of me as a wimp or something, but my goal and job there were to always have things as peaceful as possible. And that meant not being macho. Not having an attitude of “I’m gonna kick your butt.”

Police officers seem scary now in most situations. They don’t seem approachable or friendly anymore. The “serve and protect” motto seems to be rarely remembered. I would not approach an officer in Toronto and ask for directions somewhere, even though that’s what people used to do all the time. You’d look for a friendly neighbourhood police officer if you needed help. But nowadays, I don’t know. I would be intimidated and I wouldn’t want to do it.

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Another occasion when use-of-force went haywire: Toronto Police and Ontario Provincial Police officers near the intersection of King Street West and University Avenue during the protests surrounding the G-20 Summit in Toronto in 2010 – from Wikimedia Commons.

I have so many questions. Is there really an increase in police violence, or does it just feel that way right now, since there was also a fatal police shooting (of Steve Mesic) in Hamilton this past June? And we still freshly remember the Taser death of Robert Dziekanski – and the investigation that seemed to go on and on, but also featured police overreaction. Do we just hear more about it because now every other person (at least) has a pocket video recorder?

In this CBC article on the police’s use of force in Hamilton, it’s said that violent crime is down, but use of force is up. Assuming that’s true, is there a good reason for it? Do we actually know which came first? Is the visible use of force effective in deterring crime? Are would-be criminals less likely to mess with authority when officers look more forbidding?

Certainly my husband would argue that meeting machismo with machismo leads not to calm, but to desperate behaviour – particularly violence.

I watched the video of Sammy Yatim’s shooting for the purpose of writing this post. What I saw was fear. Police officers who yelled at the nervously shifting figure on the streetcar from their phalanx position on the sidewalk, pointing their guns in an urgent stance, as if they were expecting a small army to exit the vehicle and attack. Then three shots. Then six more. All from the same side.

There was nothing about that group of officers that conveyed a feeling of control, of calm, of “We’ve got this,” even though there were six of them dealing with a single kid. They should have felt complete confidence to simply walk in and do their job.

Everybody knows you don’t put guns in the hands of twitchy, nervous people.

Is it true that police officers are feeling more fear? Is it because guns and gang violence are infiltrating Canada to a greater extent? Or is it because of the “war” terminology that’s been all the rage, especially since 9/11? Is it because of that new SWAT-team look that someone somewhere in some government decided was better? Are insidious expectations changing outcomes?

Does it suck to be a police officer in this position? How are you supposed to be the friendly neighbourhood police officer AND a soldier in the War On Everything? How are you supposed to serve and protect the public as well as intimidate and subdue the enemy? Those are totally different people skills.

Or maybe all this has to do with a few isolated incidents, and there is really no issue at all.

I have great admiration for police officers. I know I could not do their job. I couldn’t hold up to the stress of being faced every day with the most troubled and needful members of society – and being expected to know what to do with them.

I don’t know where we are headed, or how worried we should be. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

***

* I had to look this up: “As practiced by the Mafia, a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to authorities.”

**Reminder of how crazy those American gun laws actually are: today I was asked to sign a petition to ban guns in Starbucks locations across the U.S. What the what?? People bring their guns to Starbucks??? NOT A JOKE, apparently. (And it makes the customers nervous. No shit.) No offense, Yankees, but we Canucks can’t process this. At Starbucks up here, we’re like, “Wear a shirt and shoes, please. Have a lovely day.”

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Now I’m just sad.

Now the Boston manhunt has come to its conclusion and the case is waiting, I am left with a broken feeling.

After my last post, two of my philosophical readers had a discussion in the comments. One wrote:

Imagine you live in a small, impoverished village in a third-world country like Pakistan or Afghanistan. Imagine that one day you hear a noise overhead, and several seconds later your village and its residents, including your parents and siblings and husband and both your small children, have been mutilated and dismembered. Bodies and parts of bodies are everywhere. You hear horrible screams expressing unimaginable pain and traumatic suffering. Somehow you yourself are spared, and you subsequently learn that everything you lived for and cherished has been destroyed because of a U.S. drone-fired missile. What would be your feelings about the United States of America? Would you ask yourself how this could possibly be allowed to happen? Would you wonder how the most privileged people in the world could be so cruel? Would you do everything in your power to seek retribution?

If not, you would be a truly exceptional human being.

Understanding what happened in Boston could be as simple as this: “Don’t be baffled when others do unto you as you have done unto them.”

I absolutely agree that in that situation, in addition to being engulfed in sorrow, I’d be enraged at the perpetrators. But who are they? Whom should I blame? And what should be done about it?

I know that some people, terrorists especially, lay blame thick and wide. It’s understandable, if not quite rational. But as the second commenter put it,

the urge/need to retaliate “in kind” is also NOT going to serve any useful purpose. Will it bring your family back? NO. Will it stop the future bombings? NO…in fact, if anything, it will escalate the cycle and create more heartache for OTHER innocent families. This whole idea of “he/she/they started it” to justify such planned atrocity is EXACTLY the problem.

My feeling of frustration the other day stemmed mostly from the fact that these lives were lost and these people were maimed – and we didn’t even know why. It’s not like the finish line of the Boston Marathon is a bastion of capitalism, like the Twin Towers.  Horrible as the 9/11 terrorists’ message was, at least it was obvious. What kind of a protest is it that sheds so much blood without leaving us a clue as to the message? What an incredible waste.

We have been told that the bombers were two brothers who came to the U.S. about a decade ago. Before that, they lived in a refuge for those fleeing the violence of rebellion – but then the refuge too descended into violence.

The younger brother, Dzokhar, who is said to be in hospital and unable to communicate, is 19 years old. That means he came to the United States when he was barely older than Martin Richard, the 8-year-old who died in the bombing.

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It’s painful to look at this now-famous picture of Martin, not just because he died so tragically, innocently, and unexpectedly, but also because his message, wonderfully well-intentioned, is not one he could have fully understood as an American boy. The brothers Tsarnaev, when they arrived in America, would have known first-hand what real war looks like. The idea of “no more hurting people” might have seemed like an unattainable dream.

I’m not excusing what they did. I’m not saying they had no choice. I’m saying… it’s sad. The older brother, Tamerlan, would have arrived in the U.S. as a teenager; it would not surprise me if he already had a chip on his shoulder, and probably a large one. Dzokhar came of age in the U.S.; he has now lived on this side of the ocean for longer than in his native land.

How does a decade go by and lead to this? A kid huddling in a boat in someone’s backyard, covered in blood. That image weighs on me: part hide-and-seek, part wounded animal. Although his brother Tamerlan was apparently a radical Islamist and quoted as saying he had no American friends, Dzokhar was reported to be a quiet, nice boy, a good student, a talented wrestler, relatively well-liked. So how is he also a man who concocts a bloodbath by filling pressure cookers with shrapnel?

Every aspect of this makes me sad. It’s so broken. The “immigrant experience” should not end like this.

According to The Centre for Research on Globalization: The Chechen origin and reported military training of the two brothers raises some pointed questions about past U.S. support for the Chechen insurgency and who sponsored the brothers to live in the United States, paid for their college tuition, receive [sic] military training abroad, and paid for Tamerlan’s Wai Kru martial arts training in Boston.

It does seem like when we pay to arm people in developing countries, it comes back to bite us eventually.

There are lots of people praying right now. Of course we pray for the victims and their families, but there is a movement to pray for Dzokhar as well. I’m glad about that, even though there is a certain tone of Let’s pray for the enemy because we’re good Christians/Catholics, or Let’s pray for the enemy, as long as he repents.

Insofar as I pray, I will pray for him, as well as the victims and their families, because his life is obviously a nightmare in which he has no idea what to do. If he survives, this will still be true.

Such a waste.

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Sigh.

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Image from boston.com

I just don’t understand.

What point could you possibly be trying to make?

You got something against long-distance runners? Did you try to do the Boston Marathon once and not finish?

Or do you have something against mobility in general? Thanks to you, dozens of people have lost limbs. Boom. Just like that. Perhaps you’re an amputee with a bitter heart? If you are, that’s still no excuse.

Maybe it’s humans you don’t like. Especially humans celebrating the miracle of human bodies, joints and lungs and muscles all flowing in harmony to accomplish a personal goal.

At least three people so far have lost their lives. Including an 8-year-old boy. Was that what you had in mind? To cut down a third-grader and critically injure his family, just because they were waiting to see their dad finish the race? I guess so, because that’s what you’re dealing with when you decide to fling death into a crowd of humans. You’re asking to kill innocents.

COME ON.

I’ve written before about perpetrating horror for no good reason. I don’t know what your reason was – I’m sure you had one. It’s just that

no reason is good enough.

Not for this. Even if there are many of you, and you all agreed this was a good idea,

it was not.

People are angry – beyond angry. They’re calling you the worst names they can think of. Is that what you wanted? Did you just need some attention, to feel really badass and rebellious? To get people talking about you? Bravo.

When these things happen, I always wonder at what factors brought those responsible to this desperate point. I do still wonder, but honestly… I’m so tired of this. Tired of being heartsick, haunted by blood and tears and screams and lives ripped apart. Tired of being reminded that evil exists and that no one is safe. Tired of re-realizing that nothing is sacred – not elementary schools, not shopping malls, not finish lines. It makes my brain and spirit hurt.

There are humans out there born into violent lives, who have endured unimaginable suffering, and who still spend their lives making the case for love. If they can rise above the brutality, you could have too. And you should have.

There has got to be a better way to make your point. Whatever it is.

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Too much to say, too little to say

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Sean asked me yesterday if I blog to try to “make sense of the world.”

Yes. Absolutely. That has never been more true than now.

I also blog because, as I know from keeping a diary for so long, it helps a lot in painful moments. It’s a way for me to remove a piece of what’s making my mind hurt, look at it from a small distance, not quite so close to my heart, and begin to let it be… if just a little bit.

I know there’s an overabundance of writing on the topic of Newtown, but I am compelled to add to it anyway. This week, I can’t write a normal blog post about funny things my kid says, or Christmas preparations, or teacher politics.

Because this week, when I think about teachers, I can only think about the educators at Sandy Hook – the ones who never expected to lay down their lives in the course of their jobs, and the other ones who, from now on, will always wonder when they might have to. I’ve only read two news articles about the shooting, but they were enough to brand forever on my brain the thought of a teacher shot dead while shielding her tiny students with her body.

I don’t know how you ever teach again, after surviving a catastrophe like Sandy Hook.

This week, when I think about kids, it’s worse. Obviously, I think about my children all the time, but now there’s this underlying horror with too many strands to put my finger on… I look at them, my vivacious three-year-old son, my wide-eyed baby daughter, both so beautiful it makes me ache, and I feel guilt-gratitude-tumult-terror-overwhelminglove…

… and I wonder… How do I deserve these beautiful children… How could I have brought them into this messed-up world… What would I do if something like – what would I do if – what would I…

… Oh God. And I can’t wonder any further.

It might sound like a strange thing to say, but I’m thankful that Sebastian died the way he did. If I had to lose a son, it’s a blessing to feel sure that he didn’t suffer, never had a chance to be scared or alone or even to cry. His was the most peaceful death possible.

Of course, I know this doesn’t death-proof my other children.

There is no word for how crazy it is to me that pro-gun types are advocating more guns right now. The idea of guns in an elementary school is so, so wrong that my brain can’t even process it. People actually dare to make the argument that if the teachers at Sandy Hook had had access to their own guns, not as many people would have died that day. This may be mathematically true (maybe), but guns in school classrooms is a tragedy unto itself. And let’s be realistic: there’s no way those guns wouldn’t do harm, and most likely unnecessary harm.

As a Canadian born of pacifist parents, my mind is boggled that anyone could possibly believe anything contrary to

MORE GUNS = MORE DEATH FROM GUNS.

It’s already proving to be true in Canada, even though we have no “right to bear arms”, and we don’t generally have the cowboy mentality toward guns that is common in the U.S. We are still utterly shocked and outraged when someone opens fire in a public place in Toronto, but the frequency is increasing: our gun problem is growing. As more illegal firearms enter the country across the border, more people get shot. Period.

It’s common knowledge that the majority of gun crimes are committed by males. I don’t disagree with people who say it’s because society puts too much emphasis on male toughness of a certain kind, but I think it’s deeper than that.

It’s scary: somehow, little boys seem hardwired to think guns are cool. I noticed it while teaching kindergarten last year: young boys – even the quiet, gentle ones – seem to gravitate toward games involving guns. They’ll turn almost any inanimate object into a gun – to “shoot bad guys”, of course.

My father, who, along with my mother, transplanted himself decades ago to a new country to avoid being obliged to kill people, has admitted that he ate puffed wheat as a kid solely because it was “shot from guns”. (So ironic that it’s “Quaker”.)

My own son, with no toy weapons and zero violent TV or video games in the house, has been known to say, “Guns are cool,” and, if we allowed it, would do plenty of pretend-shooting.

If I were to see him do that that right now, I think I would burst into tears.

To me, this is the greatest argument for gun control. Wherever this “manly” urge to shoot stuff comes from, it’s far more likely to reach fruition if there is easy access to guns. Add mental illness into the mix, and obviously, it’s deadly. Since neither the urge nor the illness is going to be eradicated, it’s the third ingredient that has to go.

The other question that I can’t get out of my head is: Why is this so much worse?

I remember the massacre at Ecole Polytechnique in 1989 – the one that deeply shocked our nation, and spurred much tighter gun control laws, along with discussion of childhood abuse and mental illness. It filled us all with fear and incredible sorrow. I also remember Columbine, and Virginia Tech. And I know that countless innocent people die violent deaths every day in countries filled with war and terrorism. On the same day as the Newtown tragedy, sixteen people died from a car bomb in Damascus – which was forgotten by news sources almost immediately.

Why does this awful event haunt me – and all of us, it seems – so much more?

Not just because it’s still so raw. Not just because it was so unexpected, so appallingly incongruous in that little town. Not just because a massacre in America is so much rarer than a car bombing in the Middle East.

I think it has to do with how easy it is to put yourself into the scene. I saw pictures of those parents, rushing to the school to find out if their children were safe or dead, powerless to stop the world being ripped from under their feet… and they could be me. I think of those traumatized teachers and students, and I can’t help picturing the faces of my own wonderful students and colleagues at my school. They could be us.

And then. They were so young.

The murder of innocents is almost impossible to take.

On Easter Sunday in 1997, I was eighteen years old. I sat in silence at Quaker Meeting in my hometown, reeling from the news of the murder of two-year-old Zachary Antidormi, remembering the Dunblane school shooting a year before, feeling like the world should be ending, and composing this poem in my head.

Light is in everything
But a shadow fell upon a woman
at a moment
Blade in hand she slayed Innocence
and God was not in that knife.
Baby Angel of momentum growing
    now impossibly stopped.
This is a shadow where anguish is complete and
Innocence hides.

Light is in everything
But a darkness possessed a man
on a morning
A score of bullets tore Innocence
and God was not in that gun.
Tiny Spirits of energy flowing
    now indelibly cut.
This is a darkness where heartbreak is real and
Innocence cries.

Your words     life      rebirth       hope        spring      chances
fall alien on my ears like a sick joke

Tell me God needs little students and maybe
a little guard to help them across
    but not
that God’s hand wields knives and machine guns.

Remind us how to find Innocence
    somehow
because that is where God’s Light lives.

We are in the darkest time of year, in our corner of the world. Hannukah has just ended, Christmas is almost here, and we are filling our homes with light, warding off that darkness.

As Hawksley Workman wrote, “the darkness defines where the light is.” When I lost my son, I suddenly understood these words. At the awfulest moments, humanity’s love can be a very powerful thing. It plunges into the hole with you, and gradually, it can help you climb out and stand up again.

Humanity’s love being sent to Newtown right now is immense and beautiful. Let us find ways to be part of it.

newtown-memorial

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Newtown

Light-of-many-candles1529 alegriphotos dot com

Images dropping before my mind’s eye like slides:

lockdown drills suddenly in sharp focus,

children huddling with their backs against the wall, invisible to an intruder,

teachers shushing them

and hoping they’d manage in a real emergency.

Now there are real pictures.

Children who will now always feel sick at the sound of a loud bang,

who will always remember that there was blood in those classrooms.

The terror and devastation on their faces makes me cry,

makes my insides tremble.

Guns did this.

Guns took a whole town and bereaved it of its children,

because even the families whose children are alive

will never be whole in the same way.

Oh.

Those parents.

The very worst of worst fears,

the nightmare that won’t stop –

it’s all now real.

Their children were stolen.

Not just death, not just loss,

but Horror

greater than my mind can grasp.

How do you ever function again?

How do you eat, do laundry, buy groceries, put gas in the car, take a shower?

How do you sleep, ever again?

I can’t stop thinking of the Christmas presents.

Joyfully bought, lovingly made…

And now just pain.

I think of bunk beds with one empty,

one child to kiss goodnight where there were two.

How do you even begin to find the possibility of the first tiny step

toward healing?

Does it help, just a tiny whisper of solace,

when a whole town can grieve together?

It is a whole new town, after all.

Does it help that all of us,

parent or not,

bereaved or not,

are fervently, heartbrokenly

sending them our love?

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