Yesterday morning, my father sent me an email. There was no body text, only a subject line that read:
"OTTAWA ON LOCKDOWN. SOLDIER SHOT."
And I felt... normal.
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was a Canadian Forces reservist stationed with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada in Hamilton. He joined the Cadets at the age of 13, and had a young son. That morning, he took his place standing guard in front of the War Memorial, Parliament Hill's tribute to the proud men and women who went before Cirillo. It's a privileged position, one Cirillo felt honoured to hold judging by his smiling photos on his social media pages.
From the information made public thus far, he was approached by a masked man carrying a shotgun, who fired point-blank as Cirillo tried to grapple the gun barrel.
A month ago, on his Instagram page, Cirillo posted pictures of a German Shepherd puppy he rescued from the street, holding it in his arms like a baby while the dog looked curiously into the camera. In another picture, the dog burrowed against his head, its eyes closed in peace, while Cirillo grinned.
After the shooting, witnesses say the gunman raised his hands in a "triumphant gesture," then fled to the Parliament building.
There's a picture from last Sunday showing Cirillo smiling widely, dressed in full Highlander regalia. Next to him is a woman from California visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. She's laughing as though Cirillo, serving as Canadian Forces ambassador, just said something funny.
Police engaged the gunman in a corridor near caucus offices. Eyewitnesses, including members of Parliament, recalled 30 to 50 shots fired. When it was all over, the gunman was dead and the hallways of the Canadian democratic reeked of gun smoke.
Earlier this week, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and another soldier were intentionally run down by a vehicle in an act RCMP are classifying as a terrorist attack. Vincent was killed, and the other soldier is still in hospital. Today, student soldiers were commanded to dress in civilian clothing rather than uniform, even on military bases.
Some might argue it's Canada's military intervention into regions ruled by fear that instigated these attacks. Authorities said they were aware of the potential for attacks "inspired" by terrorist groups dominating headlines with acts of obscene violence. Canadian intelligence officials are reportedly investigating at least 90 people for suspected terrorist links, a level of attention that will no doubt intensify in the wake of this week's tragedies.
This morning, my father's email was another blip in my internal seismic graph of fear. It was another peak, albeit a big one, that chipped another chunk away from the identity of this nation, a place where, as my mother told me during the nightly news, "things like this just don't happen."
But looking at these photographs of Cirillo, a young man about my age, stirs something else.
Those who attack us want to be angry, to seek revenge. That's why they provoke us. Their command of the language of fear trumps yours and mine tenfold. They know provoking us to bring war to their doorsteps will instill fear into innocent people living in the cities and villages these terrorists hide in. They know can translate our aggression into increased local support for their activities, and the cycle continues: They stoke our fear, we respond, their numbers grow.
They want this anger, this fear, to be our new normal. They depend on that knot in our stomachs when we ride the subway or drive past debris on an overpass. These attacks are to shake our foundation until it cracks, to twist our country into a place where we fear large crowds and teach our children how to react to spree murderers.
Fear isn't a stable state of being. A culture drenched in fear and violence begets more violence and fear. When an attack feels possible anywhere, fear becomes the ultimate weapon; in every instance, its threat proves more effective than its practice.
The goal of these attacks is not to hurt us. They want to break us. They want to prove our humanity withers in the shadow of fear. They want to extinguish the burning in our eyes when we see pictures of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo hugging a shivering German Shepherd puppy he found in the street, smiling at us, and we know that he died because he had the gall to stand proudly in front of a memorial to our fallen heroes.
We must not let them. This must never be normal.
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