It is three months ago today that I witnessed the senseless murder of Nathan Cirillo at The Ottawa War Memorial by a putative terrorist (or as I prefer to think of him, a madman with a gun). Since then we’ve had attacks in a café in Australia, at school a Pakistan, in Paris and in the north of Nigeria. We’ve also had various acts of equally meaningless violence carried out by all sorts of individuals who have persuaded themselves they have a reason to kill. Some of it is inspired by ideology, some inspired by nothing but voices in their head.
You cannot witness such a thing without being changed. At first, in deference to my British heritage, I practiced the stiff upper lip, vowing to keep calm and carry on. All well and good. But gradually the horror began to seep into my bones. Eventually I relented and went to my doctor who diagnosed me with mild depression and symptoms of PTSD. Utilizing time, cognitive therapy (the only system for those who believe in the triumph of reason over emotion) and the love and support of friends, family and, most of all, my wife, I got past all that. I am not perfect but I’m better.
Still, I am a changed person. This came home to me the other day. For my birthday this year, Liz has bought me a vacation and, almost on a whim, we decided to go to Turkey. One of the first things several people asked was: aren’t you afraid to go to the Middle East? Quite apart from the fact that Istanbul is mostly in Europe and most of Turkey is hundreds – perhaps as much as a thousand – kilometres from ISIL, the answer is no, I’m not afraid.
After all, as the right like to tell us (endlessly), we are not safe anywhere; we are, therefore, equally safe everywhere. Am I now fearless? Hardly. I fear for my safety every time I walk on an icy street – falls can be so nasty. I’m scared of being run over by a crazy driver preoccupied with texting his boss about trivialities. And of course, I live in dread of bears. These are rational fears of things evolution and common sense have taught me are dangerous.
But while I am not fearless (only fanatics and fools are), I am neither fearful. And where there is no fear there is no terror.
I was reminded of a central fact of life by a young comedian last night on television. The one thing that unites us, that brings every single human being together, no matter what their race, religion or social class, is that we are all going to die. (Neither doctors not terrorists can change that fact, only the timing.) That’s what we are on the earth to do.
So while we’re waiting we should love one another, dance in the sunlight, think glorious thoughts, speak our mind and stop jumping at shadows or fretting about boogeymen under the bed. The world is not a safe place – it never has been and never will be – but that doesn’t mean we can’t feel safe, secure in the knowledge that the world is also a beautiful place and we need to enjoy every minute of it in the brief time that we have. And fear has no place there.
And that’s ten minutes.