Sometimes, we encounter something senseless, and we don’t know what to do, or how to feel. Yesterday, in Ottawa, someone shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo to death, and then ran shooting into the Parliament building before he was shot himself. I was shocked to hear about it, and worried for the friends I have who live and work there. But now that I know they are ok, I’m left with an overwhelming sense of…nothing. Well, there’s a strong sense of some things that I should be feeling: outrage, worry, national angst, a loss of innocence, whatever. But I don’t actually feel any of those things.
As a Canadian not living in Canada, perhaps my feelings on this topic are unique. Part of the emigrant experience is that you don’t really fit in anywhere: I’m not really at ‘home’ in Canada anymore, since I don’t live there, but I’m not really American either. It’s kind of an odd in between place, and maybe my feelings reflect some of that oddness. But I just don’t seem to see or hear a lot of strong emotions about this from most of my Canadian friends and family, either.
What I do hear is a lot of people (in the media and in politics, in Canada and outside it) trying to make this into a part of something bigger, a piece of some larger puzzle: the backlash against Canadian involvement in the War on Terror; the shattering of Canadian innocence; a commentary on the shallowness of secularism; an attack on freedom itself; a call to put aside political correctness and name the global evil as Islamic (though it certainly doesn’t represent all of Islam); proof of the fallenness of our world and the effects of sin.
It may be some, or all of these things. But as pundit after pundit tries to put a spin on this in the blogosphere or on CNN, all I can think is: why does this have to be explainable somehow? Why do we have to try to ‘make sense’ of it? Do we think understanding what happened this time will help us avoid the ‘next one’ (as if every shooting, or every tragedy is somehow the same, is just the ‘next one’ in a line of ‘these kinds’ of things)? Do we want to name the evil, so we can assure ourselves that it is only ‘out there’, with ‘those people’, and not within us as well, right here? Does thinking about it, and comparing it to other things, help us process what happened without actually having to ‘feel’ about it—if we can understand it, we won’t have to experience it?
But we will experience it (or not). And then we’ll forget about it (or not). Some of our lives will be totally unaffected, others will soon return to normal, still others will never know ‘normal’ again. For most of us, new headlines will soon take our attention elsewhere. We’ll say all the right things, and talk about ‘heroes’ and ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators.’ But in all of this, we forget that, first and foremost, they—and we—are people. People who experience a world of pain and joy, suffering and boredom, fulfillment and fatuousness.
People died yesterday—like they do every day. People were terrified yesterday—like they are every day. And people also got married yesterday, had babies yesterday, made love yesterday, and found God yesterday. Like they do every single day. I don’t mean to downplay the significance of the events in Ottawa, so much as up-play the significance of what happens every day. The victims of the Ottawa shootings need us today—and they’ll need us 3 months, 3 years, and 30 years from now, as well. And what Kevin Vickers did today was heroic, and live-saving, and wonderful. But so is what he did every other day (at least, in so far as we think being sergeant-at-arms and helping the democratic process is a worthy endeavor in and of itself, and something that contributes to life-saving and life-fulfilling laws being passed), along with the actions of many other people (those ‘in uniform’ and not).
Again, I don’t want to say that what happened yesterday was just like any other day. It obviously wasn’t. What happened yesterday was singular and unique and troubling and spirit-raising and confusing. But maybe every day is singular. And unique. And troubling. And spirit-raising. And confusing. Each in their own way. Maybe we have to learn to see the singular and the unique in everything and everyone. Maybe we have to learn to see the world the way God sees it: not as a bunch of stuff wasting time between interesting things, but as a miracle of wonder and a bed of destruction, as grace-filled and painful, in infinite degrees, all the time.
My sympathies and my prayers go out to the people directly affected by the tragic events in Ottawa yesterday. And I pray, too, that I will remember to offer sympathy and prayers for people affected by other events, ‘big’ and ‘small,’ ‘newsworthy’ and not, today and yet to come. Indeed, I pray that I will learn to see people as full-orbed people, and not merely as the ‘next’ in a long line of things I will encounter in my life. Let this shooting be an occasion to be with people in their grief and their joy…and the fullness of their lives. As we are called to do every day, in every way, by a God who sees everything—even those things that don’t make it on CNN.