Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reflections on a Messed-up Wednesday.

 I was 19 on 9/11.

I mention that, not because I think that what happened in my city yesterday is at all on par with what happened hundreds of miles away and 13 years ago, but only because that's the last time my chest felt the same sort of hollowness.

Yesterday, a man shot a soldier at the war memorial downtown. Yesterday, that same man walked into Parliament and attempted to kill more people. Yesterday, my city became a hashtag.

It was strange to see Ottawa on CNN, the BBC, Fox News. Stranger still to see them talk about us as though we weren't in the room. And yet it was somewhat exciting - I acknowledge that Canada has always had a complex about this - if you want Canadians to talk about your tv show/album/comedy sketch around the proverbial water cooler, mention anything Canadian in passing.

There was no clue that morning that yesterday would go the way it went. TB noticed a large black armored cop car on his way to work around 10am. He thought nothing of it other than "cool!" and made a mental note to mention it to me.

By suppertime, we were fully immersed in the cliché of the footage looking like a movie. I don't know how else to describe it - I have never seen a police officer with a gun raised in my city. I'm still basically the most naive person you'll meet.

People in coffee shops say that everything has changed now. For the record, I don't think it will. Oh, sure, if you're a tourist hoping to see the Parliament Buildings for the next while, your day is going to get a little longer. I actually breathed a sigh of relief that my job requires less visits there than in the past, if only because i can't imagine how the coat-off-phone-off-xray-bags-metal-detector-hand-scanner process can get even *longer*. And I can only imagine how much more AWESOME this is going to make the 2015 election cycle. But even today, people are moving freely, maybe stopping to chat at a bus stop to share a "can you believe it?" and a "in this city?" with a stranger, but everything is basically normal. Everything continues.

The news anchors from other countries say that Canada has lost its innocence. Which is, to be honest, pretty effing condescending. We are not a nation of children. We understand that madness and blind rage and misplaced hatred are realities, even if we hope it will never touch us personally. But we have weathered worse and, sadly and likely, we will weather it again.

The talking heads on the television say that Canada is more angry than anything. This might be true, generally, but I'm not angry. Surprised, a little. Perhaps a bit drained. Shaken somewhat. But I cling to the knowledge that people are inherently good. That it is so much easier to be good. And when that doesn't work, I fall back on the black humour that has served me so well in the past as well.

And I even realized that this time, I'm no longer astounded when things like this happen. I've lived for a long time now knowing that the world is a place where guns won't disappear and buildings won't stand forever and planes don't always go where they're supposed to. So this is just our turn now. And it's terrible, and it's made me sad, and I know we have to "do something to confront this scourge" but I'm just not feeling it right now.

I do feel a bit guilty, and a bit smug, if we're being totally honest. I made a promise to myself, a few years ago, that I would stop being an apologist for my city. If you talk to anyone about Ottawa, it won't take long before you hear someone trot out the "city that fun forgot" line. And it was easy just to go along with them, nodding sagely as they expounded on the virtues of other, more worldly cities.

I get it, I do. For every museum and beautiful landscape and great restaurant and lovely shop, there is also a downtown core that rolls up its sidewalks at midnight, an infuriating amount of crabbiness that makes every joyous sound a noise violation and every public event a traffic nuisance, and an urban sprawl that makes it genuinely difficult to get anything to take off. It's also where government sits, so it automatically gets a bad rap from anyone who dislikes the political side of things.Ottawa is a city of transplants and bureaucrats, people who came here for a job and decided, or had it decided for them, that they would not leave. There is a really lovely tight community here of shop owners, restauranteurs, artists, and activists, but there are also a lot of people who wish they were someone else and really can't wait to shit on this city that they would rather not call home.

But now, of course, it seems gauche to trot out the eyerolling snarls that Ottawa is terrible. Which means that I'm free to let my love for this place shine without fear of a caustic response. And that's where the guilt comes in. A good young man is dead for absolutely no reason. A place that seemed so removed from any of this now has a black mark against it. And yet I love my city just as much as I did yesterday. Not to get too hipster about it, but more than once I've found myself mumbling one of my favourite Simpsons quotes under my breath:

"I knew the dog *before* he came to class!"

But mostly, I'm glad that people are taking a moment to realize that Ottawa is it's own kind of lovely, and is full of good people, and that Canadians are, for the most part, resilient, and kind and strong and sensible. And I will repeat this mantra in the coming days, because if the media blame game is going the way I think it's going, we'll all need the reminder.

13 years ago, the memory that stands out most clearly for me is the moment after our University class let out early. We all walked out into the sunshine, mingling with the government workers who had also been set free. All slightly dazed, as if not quite understanding how the weather didn't get the memo: this wasn't the time for blue skies, Autumn; no one should have this amount of sun on their face.

Yesterday, I spent the majority of my afternoon on lockdown inside my windowless office - a somewhat redundant warning, as I spend nearly every weekday afternoon on self-imposed lockdown inside my windowless office. But when I left the building that afternoon, dreading the long trip home ahead of me, I noticed, again, that no one had bothered to tell Mother Nature that this was a long, sad day. Sun dappling the faces of passersby, satisfying crunches of leaves under boots, crisp nip in the air. As Stefon would say "This day has *everything*". Like the city didn't have a care in the world.

Proof perfect that the world continues moving, unabated. Perfect proof that, despite it all, we will, too.

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