Today was an ordinary morning with the kids needing their breakfast and the dog needing his exercise and a thousand other details that make up any day, but, even so far from home, these days aren’t quite the same, not for some of us, not since Canadian Corporal Nathan Cirillo took his last breath in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside Canada’s Parliament.
His murder is the sort of event that has also taken the breath of enough Canadians, at least those who care about the values that have made Canada what it is, a place of more freedom and hope than most of the world can imagine.
Our breath taken, even as the ink is barely dry on the story of Officer Patrice Vincent, the soldier run over and killed by an extremist in Quebec barely days prior.
Still, there is much that has been managed to be spoken, and eloquently, and written, and pondered, and here on this side of the ocean some of us have been following it all, this outpouring of grief and strength from Canada, so much that I finally brought it up to our children at the breakfast table.
The sun was barely over the African horizon when I told them what was happening back home, home not just in Canada, but in Hamilton where two of the three children were born and where we all live enough of the year, home in that tough and brave city that always feels so much closer than half a world away.
There were a few questions. Hannah wanted to know where exactly in Hamilton the funeral would be.
And, daddy, how was the shooter able to get as far as he did?
Here in East Africa, where terror bombings have claimed plenty of lives in recent years, the children see security checks as a matter of routine. We do and don’t really notice them anymore when driving through the entrance of our Ugandan university home, or into the parking lot of our Kampala international school or even when going for something as simple as some milk at the grocers.
Even so, the kids know it well: Canada is not Africa.
I then showed a picture of Nathan, his broad smile and strong eyes, and explained how young he was, even if to any child any adult always seems so old, so much of their life already lived.
Jon then wanted to see the shooter. And knowing I was too far into it all, I then showed that face also, a face of illness and terror both, covered like it was from the wild-west, shotgun held near, an infamous face now, one that, with the name – Michael Zehaf-Bibeau – will be known as much as Nathan’s, both of them household names for reasons that should never be.
Finally, I showed the kids a photo of Marcus, the little boy who does and doesn’t know what happened to his daddy, the daddy who was raising his young son as a single father, that singular, final detail that wraps this story around the heart like only a black serpent without mercy can.
And then the children had to go. The school run was next. And the day continued.
Tomorrow, the day of Nathan’s funeral – and what a funeral it will be – will also continue.
And, somehow, the next day will continue as well.
And the next day after that.
But enough people are now different. Enough people are now seared, reminded of our own mortality, reminded of evil and how, sometimes, good shines brighter in the midst of it. Then Remembrance Day will come to remind us about it all again.
And maybe all we can hope is that when, by God’s grace, the days continue even after that solemn November day, we don’t forget any of this, that we remember as much as anyone can remember in a world where forgetting, really, is so easy.
Not to exact any pound of fleshy revenge, whatever shape that could take. But to remember to live any old day like it is your last, my last. Or, if it’s not, then remember to live it in in a way that’s most becoming of this soldier, this one honourable soul who has symbolized service in a way not normally even darkly dreamed in a place like Canada, a soul who is worth celebrating and who is worth mourning in the truest sense of these words.