“Don’t Go Downtown”

9:52am– I walked out of my French lecture and was headed down the hallway on the way back to my car.

10:13am– My cell phone starts to ring and I hear three panicked words from my mother that would shape the rest of my day: “Don’t go downtown”.

As the details are finally being sorted out and Ottawa is resuming normal life as much as we can, I decided to write this sooner rather than later. As a journalist, I’ve obviously been encouraged to write a piece on the shooting. But if I’m being perfectly frank, this is helping me.

I feel very humbled by this experience and I’m still shaken. Why? Because I was supposed to be working on Parliament Hill yesterday. I was blessed to have concerned friends reroute me away from downtown while the chaos was ensuing so I wouldn’t be in danger.  While two men have lost their lives, I am grateful that many more are safe.

On Tuesday -well before the shooting- I was downtown. I was conducting an interview for a story I was about to send for editing. My source and I were standing a stone’s throw away from the war monument as the sound of bagpipes filled the air. As an Ottawa resident, I immediately knew they were changing the guard at the war memorial. The guards began their ceremonial march. I looked at one of the soldiers, and thought to myself what a patriot sight it was. I was moved with a lot of pride. But I’ll never get a chance to thank him for that. The soldier was Corporal Nathan Cirillo.

I’ve never felt in danger downtown, never felt threatened or unnerved, especially on the Hill. But I sure thought twice after my mother’s frantic phonecall informed me the shooter had stormed Centre Block. I was bombarded by news stories, concerned friends and a frightened boss explaining what had happened.

I tried really hard to keep it together, but I couldn’t. I spend the majority of my week downtown. The next hours were scary, as the minutes after 9:52am ticked by and I struggled to get a hold of my dad, who works one block away from Parliament. I couldn’t reach my Parliament office, my coworkers or my family. At this point we still didn’t know all the details, so as I was driving away from downtown, praying and religiously listening to CBC Radio I had a lot of time to think about why I’m a journalist. Was I really cut out for this? Could I handle being down there and reporting?

Part of the reason I wrote this was to let people know that there are others who don’t have answers and don’t know where to go from here. And here are the conclusions I came to:

1. What country do we live in? Whether this shooting is ISIS affiliated or not, our government just declared war on a terrorist state. As far as Canadians are concerned, we’re in a little bubble of peace. We are just as vulnerable as those we see on the news, and we need to continue to stand together.

2. Many of us have never been subject to something like this. People my age weren’t around for the murders by a Quebec radicalist group years ago. Please keep in mind when you discuss this shooting that it is many people’s first experience dealing with the trauma of a tragedy close to home.

3. I’ve been incredibly emotional these past 24 hours. And it’s because I have taken this personally. This is my home. I belong to Ottawa. My life is downtown; I work with those people, I see those buildings and monuments. This is my life.

Let us be sensitive when dealing with the aftermath of this shooting. A man has lost his life and his family has been deeply affected. Canada mourns together over his death, and we thank those who kept downtown safe after the shooting.

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