THE BLOG
04/29/2018 18:14 EDT | Updated 04/30/2018 07:30 EDT

To My Yonge And Finch, With Love

The neighbourhood I call home is #TorontoStrong

LARS HAGBERG via Getty Images
A boy leaves a rose at a memorial in Mel Lastman Square ahead of a vigil for the van attack victims, in North York, Ont. on Sunday.

It's been a week since one man decided to turn a van into a weapon and burst the idyllic bubble of North York, the north part of my beautiful city.

As I walked along Toronto's Yonge Street late Monday, there was a stillness to the area that I'd never experienced before. Sure, I could still see people everywhere. But they were quiet, just like I was. We crept around the endless metres of yellow police tape like we were walking on eggshells. People looked at each other, with helplessness, confusion and grief plain in their eyes. But if they spoke, it was in whispers.

The Canadian Press Images
A fire hydrant was knocked over after a van struck pedestrians on Yonge Street between Finch Ave and Sheppard Ave in Toronto on April 23, 2018.

Our neighbourhood had been shattered and we were struggling to pick up the pieces.

But already, North York, and specifically Yonge and Finch, is finding its footing again. The streets have been reopened. The police tape is gone. People are letting themselves laugh again. But we are not forgetting.

The makeshift memorial set up by a resident, initially a few taped-up poster boards, has grown to mountains of flowers, candles, and messages of grief, support, healing and most of all, love. A week later, people are still adding to it and paying their respects in a multitude of languages that reflect the area's wonderful diversity: English, Farsi, Korean, Chinese ... the list goes on.

EPA
A man writes a message at a makeshift memorial across the street from where a man in a rented van plowed into pedestrians on Yonge Street in northern Toronto.

It's hard to articulate what being part of this community is like — but I know that it's special. I'm an Iranian-Canadian who was born in Toronto but has lived in several parts of this country throughout my life. I moved back to Toronto, and specifically to the Yonge and Finch area in North York six years ago. And since then, I have never wanted to live anywhere else in the city.

I can see Yonge and Finch from the window of my dad's condo. I've made the 20-minute trek south from Finch Avenue what feels like a million times, to catch the latest Marvel movie or grab groceries at Empress Walk.

Yonge and Finch has always felt incredibly safe, from 3 in the afternoon to 3 in the morning. It has all the space and comforts of the suburbs, but the hustle, bustle and jam-packedness of downtown is just a quick and convenient subway ride away.

THE CANADIAN PRESS
Flowers, notes and candles are piled high at a vigil on Yonge Street in Toronto.

I know everything from Finch to Sheppard — the same path the van driver took — like the back of my hand. And this event is not representative of Yonge and Finch. It's not what I think of when I think of my Yonge and Finch.

I think of the strength and diversity of its people. I think of the simple comfort, safety and camaraderie of living here.

Yonge and Finch is passing my blue Sharpie around to others stopping by the memorial so we can all add messages of support to parts of the posters washed away by the rain, so not a single spot would be left empty.

Yonge and Finch is the constant stream of people stopping to pay their heartfelt respects at the memorial at Olive Square, even as they resume their normal activities at the park — enjoying a slice from the Pizza Nova, or fighting monsters and laughing about it with friends at the square's hotly contested Pokemon Go gym.

THE CANADIAN PRESS
People bow their heads in silence at a vigil on Yonge Street in Toronto on Tuesday.

Yonge and Finch is the girl gently shaking my shoulder and shooting me a sympathetic smile on the subway the day after the attack to wake me and let me know we'd reached Finch Station after I'd fallen into an exhausted sleep on my way back from the gym.

Yonge and Finch is the gooey, magical chocolate-chip cookies the size of my head, sold dirt-cheap at Earl Haig Secondary School — where I graduated from and where my brother had to go through a "lock and secure" procedure during the attack, only to find out later that Renuka Amarasinghe had been killed just a day after she started working there.

Yonge and Finch is chatting with a cashier as recognition flashes in her eyes and she switches from English to Farsi with me, perking up at the prospect of using her first language — and seeing the same thing happen right beside me in a different language, since anywhere from 65 to 85 per cent of the area's population identify as a visible minority.

Sima Shakeri/HuffPost Canada
Messages written on a poster at a memorial in Toronto.

Yonge and Finch is a Persian pizza place, a sushi shop and a ramen restaurant side-by-side, all bustling with business — It's an Iranian man organizing my dad's condo's Christmas party, while Korean and British neighbours work together to make the building more efficient at recycling.

Yonge and Finch is looking around you on the number 36 bus and seeing Canadians with roots from all around the world, chatting in a multitude of beautiful languages.

I walk down that same stretch of Yonge Street nearly every single day with my family. I spent countless hours at Mel Lastman Square with my friends when I was in high school, and my brother often leaves school with his friends to go to Starbucks in the area, too.

THE CANADIAN PRESS
Tributes are seen on a memorial at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. in Toronto on Thursday.

We could have been those victims. The 10 souls who died doing what I did every day — enjoying the sun during a break, having a nice time with their friends and neighbours, getting a coffee.

What happened to them is incomprehensible.

People say this every time something unimaginable like this happens, but you really don't imagine horrors like Monday's senseless tragedy happening anywhere — but especially not in what is literally your own backyard — and not somewhere that feels so safe.

But it did.

And we will learn and grow from it. I'm not scared, and I know my neighbours aren't either.

After all, this is our Yonge and Finch.

#TorontoStrong

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