Little did I know that there are pockets of the U.S. where the fear of being randomly attacked is so pervasive that certain individuals view casual, friendly encounters with enough suspicion to fear for their lives.
Case in point: Walt Wawra, a veteran police officer from Kalamazoo, MI.
On a recent visit to Calgary, Mr. Wawra and his wife had the misfortune to encounter two young men on a paved path in beautiful Nose Hill Park. The young men asked Mr. & Mrs. Wawra if they'd been to the Stampede yet, in a tone that Mr. Wawra found "aggressive", even "menacing". When he brushed them off, he says they looked "bewildered". They left and Mr. Wawra thanked the Lord Jesus Christ that they had not been carrying a weapon because Mr. Wawra - as an American - was not allowed to carry his off-duty sidearm on him while in our country.
photo courtesy of Parks Foundation Calgary
His Letter to the Editor was taken by many people to be a joke at first. It's hard for many of us to understand why a grown man - a police officer at that - would be frightened of people just asking him a question. When interviewed by the CBC this morning, Mr. Wawra said that he was taken aback that someone would speak to him without being invited to. The sheer silliness of the idea that two men could have been shot for simply asking a stranger a question soon sparked the hashtag #NoseHillGentlemen on Twitter (the funniest thing we Canadians have done on Twitter since #tellViceverything) and articles on Gawker and other U.S. websites.
In between guffaws at all of the jokes being made at Mr. Wawra's expense, I started to feel a bit sorry for the guy. Not because people were mocking his formal language or behaviour, but because I can't imagine what it must be like to live in a world where I'm suspicious of every stranger, every casual encounter, every uninvited interaction.
The idea that I need to be careful of not ticking anyone off or catching them off-guard - lest I get shot - is not my idea of living in the "land of the free". It's like the terrorists have won, except that it's each other that we have to be afraid of. That's no way to live.
I appreciate the levity of #NoseHillGentlemen, if for no other reason that it reaffirms how sensible the majority of us are about guns and gun control. Regardless of whether you agree that guns should be registered or if certain types should be banned outright, it's clear that most of us think that the idea of shooting people for asking a question is ridiculous.
To me, it says that we assume people have good intentions until they show us otherwise. Just one more reason to be thankful that I'm raising my kids here, in the True North Strong & Free.