Wednesday. Fifty-two of them in every year, five in the month of October, none like it before this day. Wednesday, October 22, 2014 would prove to be different from the rest, bringing a nation to its knees. Sun, liquid on the shoulders of the living but cold on the dying, revealed a chilling truth no Canadian wanted to know - our peace was interrupted.
An unarmed father of two laid down his life for a nation of whom he knew few, but without question and without arms, by duty to his country – the second fatality in as many days for an unknown but only surmised reason – and I wept.
Nothing is the same or will be ever again. It is naiveté to believe otherwise. As the news poured out over the airwaves along with the tweet from John Ivirson “Canada has lost its innocence,” everyone across this great nation became united by the shock of what occurred in Ottawa.
In minutes, our cherished notion of peace was blasted apart, like the bullet that tore through reservist Nathan Cirillo’s body. My home country is no longer safe, but a nation affected by terrorism. There is no other word to describe it. As a person often on the road, I endured the long and often frustrating lineups encountered in airport security lineups. The endless questioning. The annoying removal of shoes and belts. The undressing and redressing that is now part of how we travel now. I endured it because I welcomed higher levels of security that, due to the 9/11 attacks, are now part of our everyday lives.
I thought of all those security measures as something to endure in other countries. The big guys, our neighbours to the south and elsewhere. Canada, with its long-standing reputation as a peace keeping nation, was not “one of those countries.”
Now we are something else. The time of innocence is over. As I listened to the news bleeding out over the airwaves, with CBC broadcasters and journalists shakily relaying events as they happened in an ongoing and live situation, I wept.
As I spoke with my brother who lives in Ottawa and whose wife works on Parliament Hill, I wept. Hearing his voice, him telling me the police were one block away from his home in pursuit of the suspect(s), I wept. I thought of his family, his young children who were in lockdown for most of the day, he and his wife, and wept. We talked and texted throughout the day but I could find no peace until I knew his family was together and the suspect no longer a threat.
The story in Ottawa continued to unfold over the next few days. There was one attacker, taken down in a hail of bullets in the halls of our nation’s parliament buildings. His gripe with Canada that he was denied a passport. I thought of the triviality of such a small detail in life and how it could lead to such senseless agony and loss."
Those thoughts, combined with the deeply moving experience of driving on the Highway of Heroes as our fallen soldier was escorted to his hometown of Hamilton, brought me to the edge. It is impossible to witness any of this and not be broken by it. In a small stretch of highway I saw countless red and white flags draped over bridges, flying at half-mast at buildings everywhere, cars pulling over, and life coming to a standstill out of respect for the life of our young heroes.
I weep as I write this. I will weep for days to come. This is a new Canada, one I do not yet know. My Canada is a welcoming land, graced by pure and open skies, brilliant pristine lakes, mountains of ice and snow, creatures wild and free, loving and open people and now a new reality I struggle to accept. My country is a beautiful place, a home I love and will never leave.