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Identity Reclaimed

For today's sunshine--so gorgeous, life-bringing and joyous!
This was the morning entry in my gratitude journal: April 23, 2018

I had no idea that the day would bring horror and devastation. The very sunshine I had rejoiced in, brought others to a Toronto street on which they met death or injury through a deliberate act. Countless others would be deeply affected by what they witnessed.

Early the morning after, I stepped from a Go-Train into Toronto's Union Station.  From there I got on a subway train going north to Sheppard East, where I had a meeting to attend. An announcement that would repeat throughout the day, reminded travellers that there would be no stop that day at  NorthYork Centre due to a police investigation. There was no need for further explanation. Heaviness hung in the air, but in sharp contrast, smiling and helpful employees stood ready to help direct the public.

I sat to the right of two men who stood talking, one middle-aged, the other young. Just before the doors closed, the young man spotted a white gift bag left beneath a seat. He scooped the bag up and darted towards the door with the speed and grace of a dancer, placing it carefully on the platform and leaning back into the subway car with only seconds to spare.

"Quick thinking," I said with a smile, breaking the normal glazed detachment of subway passengers. He and his friend took the seats beside me and he said, "I hope she realizes she left it and comes back."

The quick impulse to kindness on behalf of an anonymous stranger and the man's implicit faith that the bag would be waiting on the platform should she return, was a healing elixir to my heart.

I exited the subway at Yonge and Sheppard where yellow police tape blew in the breeze, cordoning the road off for miles north. Usually busy, the road was eerily empty and many people stopped to take photos on their electronic devices. Normally an avid photographer, I had no desire to capture this scene--it would never leave my mind.

I arrived at an office building where I joined a group of volunteer judges of an essay contest for young people who had written about a significant turning point in their life and what they had learned as a result. We had only to discuss our scores and come to a final consensus on the rankings. I am grateful for the circumstances that dropped this joy at my feet--working each year as part of a group that encourages youth to reflect on their struggles, insights and growth in life's wisdom. Our morning's work felt like a small reclaiming of rightness in the world.

I had a delivery of sweet butter tarts to make after the meeting, to a customer who works on the same office floor as my son, all too close to the site of the tragedy of the day before. Their floor overlooked the cordoned-off street. I walked north by a circuitous route, seeing many other pedestrians asking police for alternate routes to their destinations. I passed an officer stationed beside two parked police cruisers blocking access to a side street. He had probably spent his entire morning giving directions, but, when I turned back to speak to him he greeted me with a bright smile and asked, "Where can I help you get to?" I took a deep breath to help maintain my composure, and said, "I just want to thank you for your work." He said, with gratitude in his eyes, "Thank you, that means so much." The darkness lifted a little more.

At my son's office, he and his colleagues were going about their day, but it couldn't be "business as usual." We had lunch in the food concourse downstairs and he introduced me to 5 or 6 of his many co-workers also grabbing a bite of lunch. One of them joked about his mom who often "just happens" to have medical appointments in their building and drop by near lunch-time. And our laughter helped banish the shadow further.

Back at the Yonge-Sheppard subway station, beautiful strains of cello music filled the building. Music...anyway...in spite of...because of--and bringing peace and healing. I emptied every bit of my change into the musician's open case, and only wished I'd had more.

On the seat opposite mine on the train back to Union Station sat a trio of girls aged about 19 to 20, obviously all good friends, laughing and chatting about everything and nothing at all. They were lovely in their youthful exuberance--vibrant with life.

This morning the morning news on CBC radio reported on a vigil last night at Yonge and Finch. Songs were sung, prayers said, and respects paid. A person attending said, "Fear is something we overcome by love," and another said, "I feel like I need to go out of my way to be kinder to people, to say to them, 'God be with you.'"

Through Monday's violence, Toronto's identity was shaken, but through the courage, constraint and kindness of ordinary citizens, police and emergency personnel--it was reclaimed--not only intact but strengthened.

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