United By Our Grief – 5th Sunday of Easter
There seem to be no end to tragedies, the latest to effect our normally peaceful life in Canada being a rented van used as a weapon on one of the most familiar streets of Toronto. The van was used as a weapon to wreck as much havoc as possible and to end as many lives as possible and to irrevocably alter even more lives forever.
It was the first unambiguously spring-like day in Toronto when the suspect went on a rampage. The image of the vine and the branches has plenty of lessons for our lives. One of those which does not get mentioned in today’s Gospel reading is a reminder about our connections to one another. A single branch is connected to the tree. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.”
We need to add that the single vine is connected to others. The pruning cannot be indiscriminate. Tragedies are a kind of indiscriminate pruning, just taking an axe and hacking away. The suspect managed to cause major destruction, but that has caused us to be even more united and close. We are united in our grief, by the experience of Humboldt, Saskatchewan and, now, by what happened in North York in Toronto.
We can be grateful that the situation was not worse. The entire rampage lasted just a few minutes from the first call to the arrest of a suspect. And the arresting officer was cool headed and professional. The officer is being praised for an arrest with no shots fired.
This is all very Canadian! We are a peaceful, tolerant, free society. We don’t like this, but the situation will strengthen rather than undermine us. What happened is rare here. We can be grateful for that and for the speed and professionalism of an arrest.
Once again, we see people unite in their shared grief for people they didn’t even know. That is one of the strange gifts of tragedies. We know the deep need to come together and be with others when tragedy strikes.
And what about the suspect? A friend reminded me of the vast number of people in our culture who are suffering (emotionally, spiritually, physically, cognitively) even as they walk among us. Unless we have unbridled access to the inner thoughts of people, we can never understand what is happening to them.
Upon first glance at a photo of the suspect of the rampage, I thought that he looked normal enough. Indeed, he looked friendly and pleasant. But looks can’t reveal the inner life of a person. What was it like to be in his skin?
I cannot understand what caused the suspect to snap. Was it sudden? Was it premeditated? Did he target a particular gender? What factors caused him to go over the edge? Any of us can snap. The weapons used can be whatever is at hand: vehicles, guns, knives, hands, feet, or words.
Could I snap? Could you snap? What weapons would we use? I recognize that the right (or wrong) combination of factors could bring me to the point of no return. That’s a sobering thought for me. What about you?
A few years ago, I wrote in this space about the “invisible” people in our midst. There are invisible people in the city where I live. There are also many invisible people in your town or city. No, they are not hidden by Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak!
Their physical appearance means that most of us who pass by tend to avert our eyes, to not really see them and how they are suffering. The suspect who has been arrested and charged was obviously isolated and suffering. There are vast numbers of such people. Is it possible to know how to help?
The events on Yonge Street have certainly changed my life in some ways. I’ve read about similar incidents in other countries and have lived with a certain smugness. “Thank God I live in Canada.” I used to think that I would just run out of the way of a careening vehicle. That was naive thinking. It’s all the more naive because I now rely on a walker to get around. There is no way that I could run away.
As a matter of fact, I’d be an obvious target for an angry or disturbed person. I thought of that when I read that one of the victims was a 94 year old woman with a walker. I’m much younger, but a walker does tend to slow one down. Even in the rush to move to safety, I’d injure myself.
None of us is immune from falling apart, regardless of who we are or how educated we are or how successful we appear to be. And, it is becoming more evident that there is no place in the world that offers a guarantee of safety. It doesn’t help to live in fear or to hide in my room, as tempting as that is at times. But it is helpful to live with my wits about me and to stay alert.
Let’s pray for the victims and their loved ones. Let’s pray for those still recovering. Let’s pray for the bystanders who realize that it could have been them. Let’s pray for all those who responded to the need for help. And, of course, let’s pray for the suspect and his family. They are also suffering.