Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Lights shining in the uncomprehending dark

The Resident Fan Boy likes to hang the outdoor lights on St Nicholas Day.  Younger daughter came down the stairs for dinner, and gasped when she caught a glimpse of the bright colours shining against the December darkness, pressing her body against the front door as she stood on tip-toe to get a good look.

I too have come to appreciate this moment, the brightness in contrast to the uncomprehending dark.  Five years ago, I wrote about what December 6th has come to mean for Canadians, and this year is the twenty-fifth anniversary made all the more piercing by the recent revelations about a certain CBC host which has started up a very intense and often very unpleasant debate about why women don't report violence.  All that, of course, had followed closely on the heels on what happened here in Ottawa on October 22nd.

I was working at the home computer at 10 am on a rather beautiful autumn morning, when the leaves were past their peak, but there were still plenty of colours under a slight cloud cover with the sun shining through.

This being a modern tragedy, in a city where the vast majority of homes had computers when we arrived fourteen years ago, the first inkling I had that the day was not ordinary came through "breaking news" on the CBC web site and posts from Facebook.  Word came, not long after 10 am,  that one of the honorary guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the National War Memorial had been shot.

I did what I usually do when a something momentous happens; I switched to the Twitter feed and checked the various new agencies.  These told me that the gunman had proceeded to the Parliament Buildings which are just around the corner.  I texted the Resident Fan Boy, whose office faces Major Hill Park with a view of the Parliament Buildings across the Rideau Canal. He had not heard anything, but soon received a worried phone call from elder daughter in Victoria who had woken up to the news.  I turned on the CBC news and listened from my computer while updating friends and relatives in British Columbia and in Britain.

The Resident Fan Boy was moved to the other side of the building with his co-workers as his building went into lockdown while the rumours flew.  There were reports of another shooter, that snipers had been stationed atop the National Gallery, that gunshots had been heard at the Chateau Laurier and the Rideau Centre.  I just wanted my husband and younger daughter home.

And they did come home -- eventually. The buses had been detoured away from the lockdown zone and were crawling in endless bumper to bumper convoys along the Transitway.

Thankfully, we were able to arrange a lift home for younger daughter via the Queensway, which bypasses the city altogether. The Resident Fan Boy remained locked down in his building on the edge of danger zone until late afternoon. As it slowly became evident that there was only one gunman and that he had been killed in the corridor leading to the Parliamentary Library that morning, the RFB signed a release form and came home at much the same time he would have on an ordinary day.

But it hadn't been an ordinary day. It turned into an extraordinary week filled with small sharp shocks: my terror at seeing police cars parked in front of my house the next morning (a cyclist had been knocked down -- he was okay); the sight of police tape ringing the war memorial and no traffic anywhere near it -- the buses continued to be detoured for one more day; the great front gates locked in front of Parliament with security guards and police posted at every entrance; the military and police escorting the body of the murdered young soldier back across the lower edge of the province of Ontario to his home in Guelph.

I took the Accent Snob for a walk by the Rideau River on the still beautiful but endless day after the safe return of my husband. I felt shaken and worn out. The neighbourhood looked the same but a bit more subdued than usual for the hour before supper.

I looked out over the river and saw the traffic on the bridge was still sluggish, a domino effect from all those closed off streets downtown.
I walked along, thinking about the woman who helped us adopt the Accent Snob exactly three years ago this evening. She was on her way to the Main Post Office that morning in October, which is a couple of minutes' walk from the War Memorial. She achieved her fifteen minutes of fame for being among a small knot of people working frantically to save the young soldier's life. Her picture appeared in papers and news sites nation-wide, and she was interviewed on the radio and television. She was hailed as a saint on social media by at least a couple of my Facebook pals and thousands of others who also don't know her, because she was quoted as telling the dying man that he was loved. The Resident Fan Boy, who knows her very well, says this wasn't the remarkable thing. The remarkable thing was that she heard the shots, knew exactly what they were (being ex-military), and her immediate instinct was to run back to the War Memorial when everyone else was setting personal bests for running in the opposite direction.

It's been six weeks and emotions are finally dying down a bit. This evening, I rode home and leaned forward eagerly to drink in the thousands of Christmas lights stretching from Confederation Park and Major Hill Park to Wellington Street, to the Rideau Centre, to Slater Street.  Right across, in fact, the  former lockdown zone.

Boy, are we ready for Christmas this year. Especially the light.

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