A young man shot many people in a mosque in Quebec City last night. He shot them when they were at prayer in a space dedicated to prayer. He took lives. He injured people. He ruined families forever and traumatized communities. He ruined his own life too and that of people who love him. Can good come from that?
Tonight I went alone to my first big demonstration. There were lots of opportunities for me to become a political activist in my youth but I made other choices and spent the turbulent 1960’s happily enough in a domestic dream. The last few months woke me up in a rough and frightening way. The last few weeks have seen me glued to news programs or Facebook feeds. I felt overwhelmed. Where did all this hate and tyranny come from. As a Canadian, I felt sad but there was a certain smugness. We are so nice, so correct, so tolerant. Then a young man helped me, yes, helped me change my anxiety and frustration into action.
This evening I put on my warm boots, remembered my often neglected gloves and my thick parka with the fur lined hood. As I walked to the Metro I noticed a fine crescent moon. I was going to a vigil, a rally of support for Muslims, grieving those shot in cold blood while they were at prayer. I decided to make the second leg of my trip to the rally point by bus. The bus line was one I knew very well. What was unfamiliar was the crowd of students who packed onto the bus at the University ghetto stop. They were chatty and lighthearted. One girl had a beautiful ringing laugh that made us smile. The bus was packed and as we approached the big square where we were to gather, traffic slowed down. Suddenly the youngsters all got off and started to march together the several blocks that still remained. I stayed on a little longer, mindful of my arthritic hip. At one point the traffic simply stopped and the driver pulled over and let the rest of us off.
I was amazed to see thousands of people crowding in the cold air. It was impossible to get close to the stage where speakers were struggling with an inadequate system. I admit to being a little nervous as I was alone but soon I was surrounded by a group of young women with candles. I climbed up onto a concrete block and had a good view of the large crowd. There were parents with their children, old people, even a woman pushing a man in a wheelchair through trampled snow. It was very cold but fortunately not windy. People close to the stage clapped and cheered. I later read a newspaper report that politicians were not given the mike. Only ordinary citizens were allowed to speak in English, French and Arabic. The crowd on the periphery milled around and chatted in groups. Someone offered free hugs, and free hot chocolate!
After about an hour I joined the crowd headed toward the Metro station. Everyone wanted to get into the station to get warm. The bus line had been diverted because of the huge crowd and so the train was the only form of public transportation available. People were still arriving to continue the manifestation as we, perished with cold, crowded into the station. A tall young policemen towering over most of us and conspicuous in his red cap stood looking a little nervous as the crowd swept past him. He need not have worried. No one pushed, people talked to each other and smiled or waved at those coming up the stairs to replace us outside. The mood was quiet and cheerful as a transport cop directed us to fill up the whole platform. We got into the train and I resigned myself to standing all the way home. But no, a young man of Middle Eastern appearance soon jumped up and apologized for not having seen me sooner so he could offer his seat. “Were you at the vigil?” I asked. “No, but thank you for being there for me.”
Tonight was cold, but it was warm too. The candles gave a tender warmth in the winter air. The parents picked their children up from the frozen ground. The university students smiled kindly at me even if their breath was ghostly in the frozen air. People hugged each other and in the face of violence and hatred many came forward to thaw the icy grip of death