Lives that Matter: Fighting For, not Against

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.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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23 Responses to Lives that Matter: Fighting For, not Against

  1. SJ O'Hart says:

    My thoughts are with the people of Canada. I was so terribly sad to see the news yesterday of Cpl Cirillo’s death, made particularly poignant because of where it happened and the duty he was carrying out at the time. Your post is, as I’d expect, a generous and compassionate response to a terrible event, and it’s responses like yours which we need more of.

    • I know that perhaps the natural response should be anger, but when I see what I believe were the underlying causes I feel mostly sadness. Sadness for Cpl. Cirillo’s family’s loss, sadness for one life just taken that way and sadness for the fact that, in the end, the other’s life was so utterly devoid of grace.

  2. This is a very serious subject Maurice, serious indeed. Let me begin by pointing to the first of seven principles of the Unitarian Universalist Church; and that is the recognition of the inherent worth an dignity of every person. You have done a good job in outlining how we might begin to understand the circumstances which lead to the events of yesterday, but I still struggle. Inherent worth, OK. Dignity, perhaps. But can that recognition be extended to an explanation of and excuse for the behaviors carried out? I think not. We all are mad at something. We all feel marginalized at one time or another. We all, occasionally, feel that we’ve been mistreated. But most of us, thank goodness, have a well developed series of brakes and governors, inborn or learned, which allow us to distinguish what is right from what is terribly wrong .. no matter how seemingly dire the circumstances. Yesterday’s events were wrong. The society and culture within which we live says they were wrong. I can try to understand, I can recognize inherent worth, but I cannot understand or forgive those who trespass upon the rights of others in this way, I cannot. I am sorry for Canada and for everyone. D

    • Agreed, there can be no excuse for this. It is my nature to try and discern some thread of cause and effect whenever possible and in this case I believe it can be seen. That said, I reiterate, I am there with you when you note there can be no excuse. The actions were undeniably wrong and no amount of explanations can ever elevate them to a moral plane on which they can be deemed acceptable. There are some rare acts that can be deemed truly evil, devoid of any redeeming traits and this is surely one.
      I find myself choking, though, on the other key word in your response: forgiveness. I was raised to believe that all transgressions can be forgiven, in time, something that has taken a whole lifetime to appreciate but just as surely, something I have now come to hold dear ever since I discovered several fundamental truths about it. I won’t test your patience by presenting the whole list, rather just give the one that matters here: forgiveness is not mainly about letting the transgressor move on. It is rather about letting the victim let go of the growing cancer of bitterness and vengeance that tends to grow, preventing the would from healing. When we forgive the transgressor, their act of hate ceases to have power over us anymore. Yes, the deed still remains on them. They have done wrong and that will not be erased. We, however, have said, “I won’t let your seed of hatred consume any more of my energy by growing within me.”
      I am not suggesting that it needs to happen quickly. Ideally, whenever the hurt is small, as it is in most cases, so too would be the time and hopefully the transgressor would come to realize what they have done, maybe even seek to atone. That will not happen here wince both victim and transgressor are deceased. The wound remains, though, on all of us, and it is for us to decide individually and collectively when the time is right to either forgive or seek vengeance. If the latter is choosen it would be wise to remember the old adage, “another eye for another eye until everyone is blind.”

      • Your singular point about forgiveness is important when viewed in the light cast of your wisdom. You are surely right … I stand corrected … humbled. Thank you for being more level-headed than I. Perhaps my judgement had been clouded by the moment? D

        • The moment it surely was. I am constantly reminded by a single line from the beautiful song “The Living years” from the 1980’s: “don’t yield to the fortunes you somehow see as fate, you may have a new perspective on a different day and if you don’t give in, don’t give up you may just be OK”

  3. Maurice this is so sad, it breaks my heart reading about that day. Innocent people losing their lives. Even in Australia there is a nervous underlining fear that something is going to happen here soon. Sad for those families and yes we all need to care about each and every human, until they decide to turn against humanity. Thats what I think. There is no excuse for taking another persons life.

    • Indeed you are right and even though from time to time I can understand the path that leads to it, I am adamant that in all cases the deed was wrong, the result of a series of incorrect moral choices. It leaves me sad. Through it all, though, there is some hope, lights for the future in the form of comments such as yours as well as the resolve throughout my country to not be swayed from our identity as a peace loving people despite this senseless act.

  4. Mary says:

    Very sad and disturbing. Sorry for his family and for our country to have lost such a brave young man as Cpl. Nathan Cirillo . A tragic loss. So so very wrong.

    • Wrong on just about ever level. If any good comes from this I do hope it is through the tremendous sense of love and wisdom that i have seen not only from our own people but from our friends abroad. I hear cries for justice, not revenge and hope it remains so.

      • Mary says:

        Justice – Yes, after reading and leaning a bit more including posts on your blog – I think justice does involve our country and society truly looking into caring for – treating – those who are mentally ill and those with dual diagnosis. Often it is those on the front lines of service such as Cpl. Cirillo who must bravely deal with those with extreme mental health issues. You are right – I think this is the root of many such tragedies.

  5. jennypellett says:

    I had just finished scanning today’s newspaper before reading my posts here, so this one from you is very poignant. What a tragic event in Ottawa and sadly one that echoes the murder of Drummer Fusilier Rigby last year at Woolwich Barracks in East London. Very very sad. It seems that nowhere is safe these days and yet there are people like Nathan Cirillo and Kevin Vickers who are prepared to put themselves on the front line to protect the rest of us. That’s bravery.

    • Yes, I recall the story of Lee Rigby as it made the news here likely in the same sense that you learned of our tragedies. The similarities are equally striking, as are the community responses. There’s some comfort I suppose in the universal condemnation that we all feel for the actions. Small comfort but still something.

  6. M. Hatzel says:

    I’ve read this through several times. Each time, it feels like water slipping through my fingers. It feels healing, and cleansing. There is a strange reserve of strength in the act of remaining undecided, of leaving off judgement. And as many times as I’ve read the entire post through, many more times I’ve re-read the passage that concludes, “Simply put, one must come to act as if everyone matters.” I don’t know what I can say about the transgressor; he ceases to matter after your words. The importance of the moment comes to be defined by the people who had courage, who connected to their community, and sought purpose for their lives. Your writing brought me back to that, and it reminds me that the true power of resistance is in those acts that break the cycle of hate and anger. I think that to dwell, at this moment, on anything else would only contribute to that misspending of “ultimate treasure that we know as life.”

    • Thank you. I like to think that among the traits that define us as Canadians is the essential level-headedness that seems to cut right across every square cm of our place. Now is one of those times that that essential part of our national identity will prove to be an asset. As I see it this act need not be seen an an extension of violence that occurs elsewhere but perhaps a sad reflection on what the disenfranchised are capable of.

      • M. Hatzel says:

        Over the past year there have been so many reports of extreme crimes in our country, and we have seen them unfolding on social media, watching our service people carry the burden of managing an escalated situation. I’ve come to wonder if the root of the problem rests in how we tend to avoid conversations about mental health and mental health care needs.

        • I believe you have hit upon what may prove to be the singular root cause of all of it.

          • M. Hatzel says:

            Thanks for responding; I have been wondering what your thoughts are on this… from the brief time that I worked in a school, I felt I had observed enough to know something important is being neglected in our dialogues about community, family, and child needs. Looking back through all my experiences in the various communities in which I’ve lived, I’ve come to think there is important work here that needs to be undertaken.

  7. elkement says:

    I have hardly read anything this week, including news. I am grateful I did not read any op-eds and comments by political commentators – but your post instead!

    Let me just add that I very much liked and clearly remember the song you mentioned to Dave – “The Living Years”.

    I hope that you Canadians keep that level-headedness you discussed and your politicians don’t insist on ad hoc “measures” such as the changes to security controls at airport gates were (in response to 9/11).

  8. johnlmalone says:

    a timely post Maurice. the disturbing events were well reported here. in Australia we have had a number of ‘Terror Raids’ against radicalized groups and the fight on ISIS has been well covered but it is ‘the lone wolf’ we have to watch out for too: much harder to detect

  9. Tiny says:

    I heard about this tragedy on the radio while otherwise off the grid during my trip. I really like your reflective post, and your thoughts about forgiveness in particular. Trying to understand how and why these tragedies happen is important and much more useful than blind anger … for both the collective healing process and any real improvements that might be needed to make future acts like this less likely.

  10. Martin says:

    As always with your post Maurice…thoughtfully and compassionately written. Thank you for your perspective on this tragic event. Best wishes to you and yours.

  11. Marie says:

    You have connected strangers in a dialogue that informs a mindset of grace too often buried in anger or grief. Well done.

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