At first, it seemed impossible that anything good could come from something so awful, but as the days go by it is becoming clear that good, even wondrous, things have been happening since Monday’s Yonge Street attack. Let’s consider three of them.
First, the people of Toronto have come together as never before. This can be a rather cool, undemonstrative city. The remark that Canada is the hotel of nations, a nice place to stay but short on common spirit and purpose, sometimes seems truest here. In the past week, though, it has felt like a real community: united, caring, strong.
From the moment of the attack, people began responding to this act of evil with acts of good. They rushed onto the street to help the fallen. They raised money to help the victims and families. They gave blood. They made their way to Yonge Street to leave flowers at that instant memorial wall. One local man ran out to buy cardboard sheets and markers so visitors could leave messages, too. These gestures of love and goodwill are helping to wash away the taint of that afternoon.
The experience has reminded us how important it is, amid the stresses of a big city, not to surrender to hardness or indifference. When someone who loved his friends and nurtured his friendships dies, those who are left behind rededicate themselves to being good, loving friends to each other. In the same way, people in Toronto are pledging to be better and kinder to their neighbours.
Remarkably, some of this sympathy is being extended even to the young man accused of Monday’s crime. While no one would consider for a minute excusing such an act, people are wondering how someone could become so isolated and whether the community somehow failed him.
Second, we have learned how effective our officials and leaders can be in a crisis. At a time when many of us consider politicians rogues and governments useless or bloated – as they often can be – it is encouraging to know this.
Toronto’s first responders did exactly what they were supposed to do, flooding the attack zone to help the victims and secure the scene. At hospital emergency rooms, doctors and nurses rushed into action as soon as the Code Orange alert went out, putting into practice what they learned in mass-casualty drills. The cop who took the van driver into custody without firing his gun came to stand for the calm professionalism of the emergency services.
Political leaders, too, were exemplary. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, the Saskatchewan farm boy first elected to Parliament in 1974, stepped up to tell the country authorities saw no threat to national security. That reassured those who feared this atrocity might be followed by another.
John Tory, who has led Toronto since 2014, gave the best speech of his mayoralty at city council, reminding the city that it is resilient and would not be thrown off course, even by such a shocking act. Toronto, he said, was shaken, but not broken. “And we will not be.”
The premier, Kathleen Wynne, spoke from the heart as she told reporters how affected she had been to see the objects of everyday life – shoes, purses – strewn about the attack site. The look on her face and the emotion in her voice reflected what everyone was feeling.
Third, and perhaps most important, the people of Toronto are being reminded just how lucky we are. It seems odd to think that such an atrocity should make us count our blessings, but that is just what we have been doing since Monday afternoon.
Whatever its motives – and, so far, they are murky – the attack was seen as an assault on the peaceful, welcoming, moderate nature of the city. Toronto was not going to stand for that. So people all over have been thinking about the strengths and virtues of the place they live. And what a place it is, too − safe, prosperous, law-abiding, overflowing with creativity and ingenuity.
The rather drab, provincial town I grew up in has become a vibrant, dynamic metropolis that at last truly deserves the title of world city. Praising its diversity has become almost a cliché, but the human variety found here is truly astounding. When witnesses to the attack began appearing on our screens to describe what they had seen, they spoke with accents from all over the globe. The messages on that memorial wall were written in the scripts of many languages. That all these people from all these places should rub along together with so little friction is a quiet miracle. How fortunate we are to live in such a place.
At the memorial wall the day after the attack, a string quartet gathered to play Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The lyrics of that song suggest both loss and exaltation. Perhaps the best reply to Monday’s attack is to look anew at what we have here and simply say: hallelujah.