I live in Ottawa, Ontario, and as you’ve no doubt heard we had a shooting here on Wednesday where a soldier was killed. As the dusting is settling, it is apparent what we first thought was a coordinated attack by multiple gunmen was the act of a single man with the element of surprise, surprising speed and a gun. Less than ten minutes (based accounts) after killing Corporal Cirillo, the gunman was shot dead inside the Parliament Building.
Yet for hours this city was gripped in fear as armed soldiers and police moved throughout downtown, warning bystanders and journalists to run or take cover. We now know there was no threat, but at the time we had no idea how many gunmen were out there and, after shootings at the Cenotaph and Parliament Buildings, we did not know when or where someone else might strike.
Now that reflection has begun, my thoughts turn to how one man could have had such an effect on this city. Debate has already started over whether the reaction was prudent or paranoia, justified or an overreaction. I will let others who know more about these things slug that out. But what I keep coming back to is the effect one person had on a community, a city, a nation and the world simply through sheer will. His motivations will be speculated on for some time, but it is clear he meant to kill and injure.
But what if this same kind of determination was used toward a positive goal? It’s no small irony that Malala Yousafzai—a young woman who refused to be silenced—was to receive honourary Canadian citizenship that same day.
My friend and fellow Ottawa writer Hayden Trenholm said “When you experience something like this, the human urge is to turn it into a story about yourself.” This is a natural, human reaction in order to internalize and process trauma, and I recommend you read Hayden’s account of witnessing the murder of Corporal Cirillo. But he also realizes these events are not about us, but we must still react to them.
So the question I pose to myself and to all of you is: How will you change the world? What do you believe in, what skills do you possess, and will you draw on your own force of will to make it happen? Even changing one person—including yourself—for the better changes the world.
Unfortunately it is easier to create fear than hope, to destroy than to build, to discourage than inspire. But we must persevere, work together, and agree that we can make a difference not because we hope or want to, but because we will.
There is plenty you can do: give blood, donate to a charity, volunteer.
For me, I will continue to do what I do best: write, organize (i.e., the Ottawa Chiaroscuro Reading Series), promote and network. While not in the league of curing diseases, helping bring the Ottawa specific community together has helped a lot of fans know they are not as isolated as they may have thought. That is where my skills lie, and I will continue to press forward.
What are you going to do?