I live in Ottawa, a wounded city.
Today, I rode the bus to work. I work downtown, and we were locked down yesterday. There was an unusual feeling in the air as we took the bus downtown from Orleans. Each person who sat down looked just a little grim, almost concern, at returning to the scene of yesterday’s attack.
The streets were a little less crowded with cars; by comparison, the busses seemed overfull and moved more slowly, though both could have been my perception. I am not a person easily affected by fearful flights of imagination, but I think I took a more critical look at every other person nearby, and I spied them doing the same. Ottawa is a city suddenly reminded that every stranger could have a dastardly motive – that the unknown is dangerous.
Yet as we mounted the Mackenzie King Bridge, I saw something incredible. Sitting atop the second level of a double-decker bus, we came into easy view of the killing grounds. The National War Memorial, and beyond, Parliament. The bank of flags fluttering at half mast in the crisp fall morning. Halting, the bus moved, and every person I could see on the bus took a moment to look out towards those flags. Towards the older buildings, still there. The ugly mood passed as we were given that visual reminder of what happened, yet, something unbelievably Canadian.
People on the streets looked over their shoulders, to the buildings on the Ottawa River. We could see the Maple Leaf, half its usual height, fluttering atop the Peace Tower. But after taking a moment to look, to see that Parliament is still there, that Canada is still here, the people of Ottawa, as one, hunched their shoulders and went about their business, with a new determination in their step. It is as if, with one voice, the people of this city are saying they will not bow to those who would wound us.
Yesterday, when shots were fired, the citizens of this city ran forward to help the soldier who died. Despite not knowing if the gunman was reloading or fleeing, they moved to try to save his life. The Ottawa-based police who secured the area were firm, yet polite, by all accounts – moving bystanders and the media to safe locations. Ottawa’s media worked tirelessly to bring accurate information to their consumers. They reported calmly and carefully, avoiding endangering the city’s defenders while refusing to stoke the easy flames.
Ottawa is wounded, but a wound does not define someone, and neither does a scar, unless you allow it. The average citizen has refused to be defined by this mark. Let us do the same as a nation. Let us not be intimidated.