Where do I begin? To be honest, I can’t seem to stop welling-up long enough to see my screen clearly. But I guess I should begin by expressing my hope that, what you are about to read does not offend, as I make an effort to honour a fallen soldier. It is very hard to write something like this without seeming as though I am trying to take advantage of what is currently in the forefront of the media. It just didn’t seem appropriate to write this week’s blog about blended families or cyber-dating after the tragic events in Ottawa. As a Canadian I am heartbroken—as a fellow Ontarian, I am devastated at the loss of one of our local citizens.
I have sat and stared at my Twitter account for three days now without any motivation to tweet. Although this event has hurt me emotionally, I didn’t want to tweet about it (or any other topic for that matter) because it felt as though it would seem more like blatant self-glorification to draw people’s attention away from the actual event in a “look at me” attempt. Instead I just kept reading the articles and staring sadly at Cpl Cirillo’s photos.
I’ll begin with saying that I did not know Cpl Nathan Cirillo. I never met him, and only vaguely recognized his name when I saw it on the news. What I didn’t know when I heard his name on the news was that I did actually know him—indirectly though. I didn’t know Cpl Cirillo, but I did “know” Nathan.
A colleague pulled me into his office on Wednesday and asked if I had heard what was going on in Ottawa. Blissfully ignorant, I assumed it had something to do with the upcoming Mayoral elections. I was sadly mistaken as he shared the viral video of police entering the Parliament building in Ottawa and firing what sounded like dozens of shots. He further informed me that a soldier had been shot, but I was assured that he was alive. It wasn’t until later that evening that I received a text message from my daughter informing me that it was her friend Nathan who had succumb to the injuries sustained during the cowardly attack.
The Six Degrees of Separation now entered the picture as she informed me that Nathan was one of the best friends of her ex-boyfriend. She reminded me that it was Nathan’s girlfriend’s ID that she borrowed when they all wanted to go to a club one night when she was eighteen. I remember that event because we had laughed about how she looked nothing like her, but still got in. (She told me about it long after-the-fact, so I was, as a mother, able to laugh about it despite not being pleased that she had attended a club as a minor). She further explained that everyone knew Nathan. Everyone loved Nathan. My heart felt an ache inside as I looked at yet another photo of his vibrant face on the internet.
When I ran into that same colleague the next day, he was still livid from the entire situation. I asked him if he remembered the young intern who helped him with some complicated graphs this past summer. I informed him that Cpl Cirillo was one of his best friends. His enlightenment of this indirect connection with Nathan made him even angrier.
Why? He barely knew the young intern. Why did this young man’s friend’s passing strike such a chord in him? Why was it different than all of the other deaths and murders that we are affronted with on a daily basis? Because we are all somehow connected by the heart, and people are truly good.
It just so happened that my daughter’s ex-boyfriend interned at my office a few summers in a row and became very close to his mentors. One of those mentors calls him “my other son” and they text each other on a regular basis. Normally, I would not trot out someone else’s private life, but I felt a certain duty to do so that day. His mentor went ashen at the news of the connection, and immediately called his “son” to offer his condolences. The team invited him in for lunch on Friday so they could be there for him.
Why? Why would it have impacted them so deeply to reach out to Nathan’s friend? Was he just Nathan’s “friend,” or did he actually lose someone who was family to him? I think the latter would be the correct assumption. I welled-up once again at how that group of mentors reached out to this young man. People are truly good.
As I sat at my desk that same day, I overheard three coworkers talking about Cpl Cirillo. Two of the ladies knew him indirectly as well—one, her son was a friend of his and the other, her niece was a friend of his. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Nathan—Cpl Cirillo—was loved by many. Directly or indirectly, it was clear that he affected so many people with how he lived rather than just the way he passed.
I sat at my desk in tears. I thought about my grandchild, and stared at the photos of her beautiful face. Although both her mom and dad were friends with Nathan, she will never know him. Would he have been “Uncle Nathan” as she stared up at him in awe with those big liquid brown eyes? We’ll never know. We’ll never know how much more intricate those Six Degrees of Separation would eventually have become. I was then sent back to thoughts that I had many times before becoming a mother.
What kind of a world are we bringing babies into? What kind of life are we giving them? Is it worth it to keep having children when all we keep doing is destroying each other? Yes, it is worth it because, I believe, that people are truly good.
On my commute home from work on Friday, I decided to be selfish and take the express toll highway so that I could get home quickly and start my weekend sooner. As I approached an overpass, I noticed two men standing on it. My eyes quickly darted to my speedometer to ensure that I wasn’t speeding and hadn’t just been tagged by radar. As I approached the next overpass though, I could see a fire truck on it and a commotion – all of the traffic around me slowed down this time. I saw people draping Canadian flags over the edge. Immediately, I thought, “They shouldn’t be able to do that. That’s a distraction and could cause an accident.” And then my eyes were drawn to another sight—cars were beginning to line the highway with flags draped on most of them as well. I lost my breath and started to cry. I knew what it was now. Cpl Nathan Cirillo was coming home.
I couldn’t control my emotions during the rest of the drive home as I passed more and more people gathering to pay their respect. I still struggle now to hold my composure in order to write this.
There have been fallen police officers and soldiers, murders, accidental deaths, and celebrity passings—we hear about them all the time. They hurt my heart each time I learn of the latest, but this one seems to take my breath away with every mention of his name and every image I see. It catches me everywhere I turn. It would not have been right not to honour him today even though I didn’t “know” him.
All of this emotion made me think about a poem by Linda Ellis called “The Dash.” It made me think about Cpl Cirillo’s dash. At such a young age, he seems to have filled his dash with so much. Before he became Cpl Cirillo, he was just “Nathan.” But he wasn’t “just” Nathan, he was a beacon of joy to many—especially, I’m sure, to his son.
What have I done in my dash lately? As I sit reflecting upon my behavior of this past week, I am hard-pressed to find something substantial or meaningful that I have done. All of my negative thoughts or ungrateful feelings towards various situations that occurred make me feel completely ashamed. I just received a text message from a colleague who is ex-Military; he told me that I was a “great person and great Canadian” for writing this. Am I really? Or am I just someone feeling overcome with guilt that someone had to give their life needlessly while I am permitted to continue to live my minuscule life?
Was Cpl Cirillo’s death needless? If I follow my personal belief that “everything happens for a reason,” then the answer would be no. Obviously, his tragic passing never should have occurred, but his sacrifice must have been for good reason. I have to believe that. I believe that, as Canada joins hands to honour this young man, they remind the rest of the world that people are truly good. No matter what the situation, good will always win over evil.
Thank you, Cpl Nathan Cirillo, for touching our lives and reminding all of us that we are all connected and united in our love for one another. You will be mourned and missed, but your death will not have been in vain.
You have reminded us that, because people are truly good, we will always stand strong and never let the diseases of our society keep us down. We’ll just keep supporting one another and continue to strengthen our unbreakable unity.
Thank you, Cpl Nathan Cirillo, for living an incredible dash.