I have to do it. I have to write about Corporal Cirillo. Emotions are still running high, and I need to get mine out there too. To share is to mourn is to heal.
“Shots on Parliament Hill. They shot a soldier and are still at large,” my husband’s text said on Wednesday morning. I texted back some expletives of disbelief as I ran around with my two-year-old, doing errands, going to the park, making lunch. I didn’t turn on the TV/radio/internet because I wanted to keep my presence of mind on her, rather than on the awfulness in the world outside our bubble. News reports like these tend to take hold of my psyche, to become my obsession, to magnify my senses. I was just heading to a University class when Columbine happened, just heading to work when 9/11 happened, just heading to the playground when this happened. I shut off my Twitter, closed my Facebook, and played with my child. I insulated myself in my balloon of peace and happiness and possibility until naptime. And then I turned on the TV.
As the hours unfolded and the media images came fast and furious, I could think of little else. At work, I talked to every patient about the day’s events. I emailed every Ottawa friend I have. At night, my husband and I hunkered down on our couch and flipped between CBC and CNN and Social Media. I took it all in, in an attempt to make some sense out of senseless. To build some comfort out of discomfort. To pull some hope out of fear.
Then on Friday evening, as I was heading home, I stopped to watch Cpl. Cirillo’s procession pass through Burlington. Brant Street had been blocked off to a single lane, with a firetruck and police cars providing a gentle barricade between pedestrians and vehicles on the overpass. The sun had nearly set, and hundreds of people were gathered, faintly waving flags and scanning the oncoming highway through the darkening skies and the end-of-rush-hour traffic. Soon, flashing lights crested the dusk of the 407’s hill; a police motorcycle, and then a handful of police cars silently flashing their red-and-blues, surrounding the hearse. Silence. No car horns, no cheers, only a few claps. Lots of tears, lots of drawn breath, lots of hugs. The motorcade passed quickly beneath us, on the final leg of its journey to Hamilton. And we all walked away. Silence.
When I got home, I saw the pictures of the thousands upon thousands of Canadians who had the same experience I did, lining the Highway of Heroes like a heartbroken Honour Guard. I’m glad I was there. I needed to be there. To represent my family, my gratitude, my emotions. To mourn, to think, to reflect on what a united country we live in, our True North Strong and Free. On what a profound impact Cpl. Cirillo has had on Canadians as a whole. On the grief, the sadness, the dismay, the shock.
From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
*** I’ve read a lot about how Corporal Cirillo’s death has received more press than Warrant Officer Vincent’s tragic death earlier in the week. And while that’s true, it’s not a contest, and it doesn’t minimize Vincent’s service or his sacrifice. He died as a solider, because he was a soldier, in spite of being a soldier. RIP to both, and to all the soldiers we’ve lost before them. ***