Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Time to Rejoice, a Time to Mourn

First, I'd like to thank Cheryl Kaye Tardif for her kind response to my previous post, "A Letter to My Son". I have one more thing to share about my son, by posting a short essay that appeared in the Vancouver Sun newspaper several years ago. My son's birthday was ten days ago, on the 6th, and perhaps I should have posted this piece at that time, but then I thought that perhaps we should take more than one day a year to remember a tragedy. Here's the essay as it appeared in the Sun with a slight modification to acknowledge the passage of time.

On December 6, 1989, I was holding my 15-month-old daughter in my arms while watching a TV reporter sombrely describe a tragedy. Fourteen women had been murdered at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. Later reports revealed that these people died because a man they'd never met had decided female engineering students were feminists, and he hated feminists. The killer blamed this group of human beings for his own failures and problems, and shot as many women as he could before turning the weapon on himself.

On the following anniversaries of that day, I tried to imagine the terror those young women must have felt during their last seconds of life. Even a brief moment was painful and terrifying. Instead, I concentrated on TV images of mourners across Canada holding flickering white candles on snowy nights. Their songs and prayers were moving, yet I wondered if holding candles in a freezing Vancouver rainfull would make much difference to the victims, or many other Canadians.

In more optimistic moments, I believed these tributes would raise awareness of the enormous amount of violence that still permeates "civilized" societies. But as the years rolled by, I heard and read the names of more women killed by domestic violence or sexual assault. I began to doubt things would improve.

History books are filled with horrific accounts of the violence people commit against one another. The reality filled me with anger and, worse, a sense of inadequacy to help make the world less hate-ridden. What would it take to stop the countless forms of violence committed not only by men, but by women and growing numbers of children? What could I possibly do to make a difference?

In the spring of 1994, violence was the last thing on my mind when my doctor confirmed I was pregnant with our long-awaited second child. After two miscarriages and with a biological clock that was quickly winding down, this was as close to a miracle as I'd experienced. Our baby was due December 7th. I had hoped this child wouldn't arrive December 6th. I should have known better.

My son was born on a grey Tuesday afternoon, in the aftermath of a brief snowfall that had sent snowplows rumbling through the streets during my first stage of labour. Later that evening, when all was quiet, I remembered the massacre in Montreal. Earlier in the week, the media had mentioned upcoming memorial ceremonies, and thoughts of previous gatherings had been lingering in the back of my mind. I pictured the flickering candles that would be held, once again, in many parts of Canada. I then looked at my tiny sleeping son.

Perhaps giving birth to a male child on such a day was God's way of saying there's more than one way to look at things. Over time, December 6th has come to epitomize all that's wonderful and loving about this world, as well as all that is hateful and ignorant. For me, this day represents life's cycles: endings and beginnings that continue in so many different ways, on so many different levels. Through all of this, I've finally understood that I can help stop the violence. I can raise my children to accept all human beings regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual preference. I can teach them not to blame others for their misfortunes, but to accept full responsibility for their choices, to become adults in the fullest sense of the word.

When my children are old enough to understand, I'll tell them what happened at Ecole Polytechnique on December 6, 1989. If I raise them correctly, they'll do what they can to make sure violence isn't part of their lives, or the lives they touch. This is one way to pay respect to those fourteen young women, and to all victims of violence.

This December 6th, while people across the country held flickering candles in the winter night, I lit thirteen candles on a birthday cake. The way I see it, we all honoured life: past, present, and future.

No comments: