Thinking Out Loud

May 7, 2018

When Tragedy Strikes Your City

Filed under: Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

I spent the first 33 years of my life in Toronto, so when NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt led off with the story of a van driving down a 1 mile (2.2 km) stretch of a major street killing people, I immediately thought the stores in the background the design of the traffic lights looked familiar.

Sure enough, on April 23rd, a city outside the United States opened that newscast. I knew the area of Yonge (pronounced Young) Street and Finch Avenue well. It was stomping ground for my late-teen and early twenty-something years, and furthermore, our son currently lives just a few miles north, at Yonge and Steeles. The event is not being regarded as an act of terrorism.

Saturday night after attending a concert for which tickets had been purchased several weeks in advance at, yes, the same Yonge and Finch, I said, “Let’s go for a walk up the street as an act of defiance.” Defiance in the sense of taking the street back from those who would render it a soft target. Defiance in the sense of not allowing fear to overtake us as we walk. Defiance in the sense of supporting the local merchants by buying a slice of pizza. Defiance in the sense of supporting the other people doing the same.

But it only took less than one block to come across the first memorial.

A group of people were busy repairing that one from damage incurred by a major windstorm on Friday night. The bouquets of flowers and memorial candles were being held in place by sandbags.

This was real.

This was everything I’ve seen on programs just like NBC Nightly News only this time it was our family which was standing at the memorial, about which the only positive thing that can be said was the beautiful aroma of the flowers themselves.

Otherwise, we were looking into the aftermath of tragedy. Ten lives, needlessly taken. All I could think was, “These people shouldn’t be dead right now.”

One man commented about the victims “having peace wherever they are.”

I wanted to talk to him about that. To get him to expand on what he meant. To — yes, forgive me — turn it into an evangelistic moment.

That’s what I do. I love striking up conversations.

But (a) I wasn’t alone, and (b) we were facing a 90-minute ride home. I don’t live in Toronto now, but I do believe the ministry opportunities in an environment like this abound, if someone is there to see and hear them and know how to gently respond with grace and hope.

There are many, many people in Toronto very broken by the experience. I don’t want to see their grief exploited, but I think this is the very place Jesus would be and should be. It doesn’t mean handing out tracts and seeking immediate conversions, but it does mean bringing Christ into the conversation and being his very presence in that location.

Had only one person or even two died, there might not be this outpouring of grief and tribute. But when it’s ten, it attracts greater attention. I looked at some of the pictures of the victims and the notes and comments about them and wondered aloud if they could see the enormity of the response their deaths had brought. Locally. Regionally. Nationally. Worldwide.

Then I quickly backed away from such conjecture. Perhaps they would be embarrassed at the attention being paid. Conversely, they might feel vindicated that their dying was not for nothing. Toronto now joins the ranks of many cities where barriers are being placed to control access to pedestrian walkways.

At one point someone had laid a hockey stick on the flowers, conflating this tragedy with the other Canadian tragedy just days earlier, the deaths of 15 aboard a hockey team’s bus in Saskatchewan.

It was later, but as we drove north on Yonge, we saw a larger memorial. I had to stop.  I just couldn’t drive by. We revisited the process of slowly, reverently circling this cluster of flowers and signs and candles. Something compelled me to see this one as well, despite having seen the other. It was an event in the city’s history, that will never be forgotten. I asked my son if he remembered us visiting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington as something struck me about the similarity.

One cardboard sign quoted Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

My desire is that both immediate families, complete strangers, and everyone in between would know the reality of that.

 

 

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