Yesterday, my nice, quiet, clean Canadian city experienced what the police have called “the worst mass murder in Calgary’s history.” Four men and one woman, all in their twenties, were stabbed to death at a house party where people were celebrating the last day of classes at the nearby university. By all accounts it was not a loud or rowdy party, just friends getting together. People who lived on the same street said the students who lived in the house were good neighbours and never caused any trouble.
When I heard this all I could think about was how when I went to university we lived in a similar house in a similar neighbourhood and held parties like this nearly every year on the last day of classes. It hits close to home. Almost too close. Those families are dealing with such a senseless loss. We are all holding the families and friends of the victims close to our hearts, and our community will be there to help them through this incredibly difficult time.
And then it was reported that the suspect was a student himself, just accepted into law school, with a mom and dad and who knows how many other friends and family members left to wonder what the hell went wrong.
We are rattled - “shaken to the core” as the mayor has said – because there is so much about this that could apply to any one of us. We are used to this happening in other places to other people and now we are dealing with the fact that it can happen here. Our innocence has been shattered a bit.
But they say that in times of crisis, one’s true character emerges. What has touched me the most – the thing that reminds me that this city is still a great place – is the compassion that is being shown toward the suspect’s family and, in particular, his parents.
See, I think we’re shaken not just because we too went to house parties in university, but because we are beginning to understand that kids that do bad things don’t always come from bad families. In fact, it’s quite possible that this kid’s upbringing (he’s just 22 years old) was even pretty normal, whatever “normal” really means nowadays. His dad is a 33-year veteran of the Calgary Police Service and according to the Chief of Police, both parents are absolutely heartbroken and full of sorrow for the pain their son has caused.
I can only imagine.
Our community is supporting these parents. When it might be easier to judge, instead we are supporting them and praying for them.
We are wise enough to understand that we can give them support without taking it away from the families of those who were murdered. There are lots of people hurting right now, and there is lots of love to go around. Blaming them for the actions of their son will not make anything about this situation better.
Every parent has moments of doubt that they are doing right by their child. We fear that maybe we yelled too much or didn’t pay enough attention, or otherwise were the source of some grievous hurt and deep down inside we are a little bit terrified that if our kid ever messes up it will all stem back to that time we refused to let them play Xbox for an entire day.
Raising a child “right” encompasses so many things. When they’re infants the requirements are pretty basic: clothe, feed, clean, repeat. As they get older it evolves into teaching proper table manners, making sure they wash their hands after they go to the bathroom, and making them clean up their toys. Most of this stuff can be categorized as, “Things they need to know so that if I ran away and didn’t come back they wouldn’t die.”
In between teaching them all of this every day drudgery, we also teach them the difference between right and wrong, how to think critically, and how to make good decisions. Ultimately though, we cannot make those decisions for them, and sometimes they may choose to do the wrong thing.
They may choose to do the wrong thing even if we have done everything we know how to teach them what is right.
That - as a community - we appear to understand what “There but for the grace of God go I” truly means is so powerful. You know, we knew our city was full of amazing people when everyone came together to help our city rebuild after last year’s flood. It was incredible to see people taking time off work and giving up their own lives for a little while to help strangers find solace. And I in no way want to minimize those efforts because they were spectacular, but I also think it fair to say that that kind of altruism is easy; it is generally not difficult to find it within yourself to help people who have lost it all. Even if you physically weren’t able to help, you still wanted to.
But I don’t know anything that speaks more to all of the parents in this city, especially those in the thick of it, than to know that we live in a community where most people understand that for the most part, we are all doing the best we can (okay maybe not all of us, but most of us). We may not get the results we want, and we may all make different choices on how to get there, but we are trying. We really do have the best of intentions.
I am sure that over the coming days and weeks, a better picture of what happened will emerge. We will get answers to our questions. More blame may be assigned.
For now, though, thank you to my community for giving everyone the space they need to grieve.
|Gavin at the Family of Man sculpture in downtown Calgary|