I keep seeing visions of a young man, cut off—his choice—from the Canadian mainstream. Maybe he’d been bullied as a child but it was just as likely he had not. After all, this tendency to avoid contact with others was nothing new. The potential bullies probably had not even bothered with him. Later he’d moved around quite a lot and, if asked, his neighbors would likely have said, “Oh, he was a quiet one, mostly kept to himself,” instead of the less polite but somewhat more accurate, “I don’t recall much about him. He didn’t have much of a presence—pretty much a nobody, really.”
There’d been trouble from time to time—drugs, to anaesthetize the effects of a generally meaningless existence, along with the petty crimes that happened in order to pay for them. Never a steady job; he lacked the ability to interact with others well enough to either develop marketable skills or to practice the few menial ones he’d somehow picked up along the way.
Recently, though, he’d managed to find a few ‘friends,’ although it might be stretching the definition to call them that; more like a rag-tag collection also living that lonely self-imposed exile. Some primitive instinct of self-preservation likely compelled the stragglers to stick together.
The conversations were, as is often the case, awkward at first. More so in this case, though, as the interlocutors were by no means skilled in the arts of communication. They did what strangers commonly do upon first meeting, namely, see where the common ground exists. Rather than start at the top—the higher goals they pursued, as is the custom, they likely started at the bottom. Not, “what do you enjoy,” but, rather, “what do you despise.” They found commonality soon enough and, in short order, set it so that their social circles—if you could call them that, generally consisting of a set of one—intersected to the best intent possible.
If he hadn’t already done so, plans were already the works to share accommodations; something easily enough done since the personal possessions did not extend much further than an old worn out mattress, easily moved from one dirty, cheap apartment to another.
And then the change began. As is generally the case the so-called like-minded individuals became more and more adamant in their limited views, more polarized. As we say today they became more radicalized. For them, unfortunately, awakening had not come. Closed off from external views as they were it was likely to ever happen. No broader picture; no appreciation for society. Most importantly, no self-respect one earns through an acceptance that they matter in the overall scheme of things. They were thus destined to live out their lives cocooned within the shroud of hatred and distrust they were steadily building around themselves.
Nonetheless, some sense of self still did exist as did the natural urge to make ones mark, albeit dimly. He, along with his companions, was all too aware, though, of the limited extent to which they could do this. He had come to have a life that was anathema to affiliations. He had spent so much time rejecting belonging that he was no longer capable of it.
He could not fit in anywhere else.
He and his friends rationalized this reality through the belief that others were the problem. This grew to an increased hatred directed at that which they had come to feel had rejected him: school, former employers, life in general and the government in particular. He, along with his friends, began looking for ways to strike back against what they had come to see as an unjust world.
The problem was that, while the now had identified the many things they wanted to fight against, they had no idea what they stood for. In fact they were in all likelihood no longer in possession of the skills, dedication and love necessary to work toward the betterment of anything.
Corporal Nathan Cirillo knew what he stood for. A young father, he held down several jobs to support his son. He was a reservist, serving with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He proudly accepted responsibility to serve as honour guard at the National War Memorial and took no small measure of joy in interacting with visitors to the site, a fact attested to by the genuine smile on his face whenever asked to pose with them for pictures. It was his intention to join the Canadian Armed Forces full time in the near future and to continue his dream of serving in the way he had chosen and had come to love. His CO is on record as saying he’d already served with distinction and no doubt would have continued to had circumstances permitted.
Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers also knew what he stood for. A veteran of the RCMP and now overseeing security at the Parliament buildings, he’d devoted his professional career to the protection of others; to making his safety secondary to that of those under his charge. When the time came he did what he had always done, namely to enact the plan that, in his best judgement, would accomplish exactly that, regardless of the cost to himself.
I must digress and explain what I am about to say. I am an educator and, as such, my own professional efforts have been in search of a single goal easily stated: to use the educator’s tools in order to help others lead the best lives possible under the circumstances. People matter, all of them. Each has a complex story and equally complicated, often trying circumstances. Doing the best possible job entails finding out as much as you can about those you serve and, more importantly, treasuring the sanctity of each individual with which you cross paths. Simply put, one must come to act as if everyone matters.
The Other—one is at a loss when asked to come up with an appropriate name. The Terrorist is too much, conjuring up images of someone who could possibly stand for a cause (however misguided or evil). The Shooter, may do, one supposes, however even this comes a little too close to humanity for my tastes in this instance. Anything but the given name, though. To mention it would be to deem even a small amount of humanity to one clearly so undeserving of it.
There are times, it seems, when circumstances are such that an overt rejection of what we hold sacrosanct can be met only with an absolute shunning of the actor, followed by an effort to find some measure of justice for those who, through those actions, have been wronged.
All one can do for “The Other” is to perhaps experience a fleeting sense of pity for the pathetic one who chose to so misspend that ultimate treasure that we know as life.
Cause-and-effect is real. No doubt the events of Oct.22/2014 in Ottawa will need to be met with changes. What’s left for us now is to gather back that sense of humanity, to take the time to assemble the facts and to let the combined wisdom of our people prevail above all as we seek justice and make the needed changes to our collective national identity.