Message to Kobo staff after the Toronto Danforth shootings

(first published July 23, 2018)

I love the Danforth. It’s everything that is great about Toronto. Walking east from Broadview on a Saturday or Sunday night in the summer, the living city is right out there to see: bars are full, cafes spill out onto sidewalks, doors and windows are open. Old husbands and wives sit on benches with grandchildren — a night off for some lucky parents — and teens move in laughing clutches. I’m sure it was like that last night.

If you spend any time in the city, you have had at least one good night on the Danforth. There has been a great bar night. Or a decent souvlaki. A birthday party with flaming ouzo and singing waiters. So you, like me, have a picture in your head of what that street looks like on a good day.

Now it’s all police tape and emergency vehicles. News trucks. The universal signs of bad happenings. And I’m faced with that bizarre, awful experience of overlaying the two sets of images. Happy over terrible. A restaurant I’ve been to now with the windows blown out. A place I bought late night ice cream for my youngest son now with blood in front of it.

We are new at this. I am new at this. This city, this country doesn’t have much practice with violence like this. We like to believe it’s because we are good. Because of our traditions of inclusion and diversity, firearms policies, and so on. And that is true. Policy can’t guarantee against nightmares, but it can lessen the likelihood. We have also been lucky. Because as we saw last night, it only takes one person to make a nightmare.

Fear, power, attention and death. We don’t know who this person is yet or what his goal was. But it was wanting those four things in some measure. Mental illness, anger, terrorism — the machinery of media and investigation means we’ll probably know in a matter of hours what his aims were, but it will boil down to those ugly ingredients one way or another. Death he got, in terrible measure. But we can deny him the rest. There was fear in the moment, and its terrible aftershocks for the wounded, the survivors, bystanders, neighbours. The rest of us can do our best not to be gripped by fear, shaped or twisted by it. That goes a long way to denying him power as well. We can refuse to let him build a snarled, ugly place in the back of our minds, where anxiety and fear make his memory loom large. For me anyway, my memory and effort and attention are for the victims, their families grieving or grateful or in long, worried nights in hospitals. And gratitude to first responders who kept it from being worse and provided help, and for bystanders who did the same. In the aftermath, we see how good outnumbers evil.

As for attention, I give him nothing. He’s a zero. An empty space. In a logical world, his name would never again be mentioned, his picture never shown. Nothing about him would be saved. But it isn’t a logical world, so I am sure we will soon know all about him and he may get some of what he wanted, the blaze of reflected light that is media coverage. But I give him nothing.

If you are suffering or worried or fearful today, we are here for you. Let your manager or your co-worker know, or stop by Employee Experience to have a chat. Talk with friends, support each other, or talk to one of our counsellors that we have on call.

What I will do is go back to the Danforth. I will kiss my wife, who was going to be there last night but changed plans. And my kids, just because. And send my relief and sympathy to friends who live nearby who are frightened but safe. But as soon as I’m back in town, I’ll go back and eat ice cream on a summer night in the Danforth.

Michael Tamblyn