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The van attack left a scar near my high school, but I know we will heal with time

Michael Samoilov is a Grade 11 student at Earl Haig Secondary School in Toronto

Teenagers in shorts and T-shirts walked the halls of Earl Haig Secondary School on Monday morning, the sun’s rays casting a warm welcome to the uplifting spring weather. After buying the usual pizza-slice combo in the cafeteria for lunch, I crossed a bustling Yonge Street on my way to my co-op placement.

Not hours later, a van would cleave the street across the path I walked, tearing a scar through North York and leaving bodies strewn in its wake.

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I wish I could say I cannot imagine something such as this happening, but like many of my peers at school, the proximity of this event renders it chillingly real. Earl Haig is located just a short walk away from where the horrific event took place.

Related: From New York, Toronto police chief lauds city’s handling of van attack

Read more: As Toronto grieves, portraits of van attack victims emerge

Toronto van attack: How you can help and what we know so far

A common sentiment among students was that, were this to have occurred only an hour earlier, many of the victims would have been us. Seeing the pictures of the scene after the incident happened, I instantly recognized exact locations where people were struck – countless students walk the stretch of road from Empress Walk, a large retail complex on Yonge Street to North York Civic Centre, every day for lunch. As the largest school in the Toronto District School Board, it is almost certain that an Earl Haig student would have been in the path of destruction had this happened during lunch, only one hour earlier.

We have been lucky to learn that no student was a direct victim of this tragedy. We cannot say the same for our staff.

In an announcement deflating rooms across the school, we were informed that Renuka Amarasinghe, who had just finished her first day as a cafeteria worker that Monday, was one of the fatal victims.

My math class was swept with silence.

Ms. Amarasingha was a single mother, leaving behind a seven-year-old son, who will no longer be able to help provide for her family back in Sri Lanka. A GoFundMe page set up to support her son surpassed its goal of $150,000 within a day.

I cannot help but think about how buying food in the cafeteria that Monday meant I was likely one of the last people to see someone who is no longer alive today.

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Many are shaken by this event. Some Earl Haig students were unlucky enough to witness the carnage first-hand. Others have since recovered and moved on. I have heard students shame others for seeming like they have already forgotten the event that unfolded. Although everyone must grieve in their own way, this occurrence should remind us to cherish the loved ones we have, for they may not always be here.

My brother, who I don’t speak to very often and who should have been busy studying for his final university exams hundreds of kilometres away, called me on Monday to ask if I was okay. While walking home, a friend who I had drifted apart from saw me and offered to drive me the rest of the way. Later, a girl I share one class with asked if I was alright even though we had never spoken before.

I sent messages to various group chats asking if everybody was okay, in an effort to pull myself closer to the people I love.

I have always found it interesting how two words can have opposite meanings. For me, the verb “to cleave” comes to mind. It can mean to split something apart, but it can also mean to mend things together. The scar along Yonge Street may cut deep, but it will heal with time. Decide which definition of the word “cleave” you should use today.

The sun’s light dissolves over North York, marking the end of a sombre day, and to some people, the first warm day of spring may forever be a grisly reminder of a time when a loved one was lost. But the sun will rise again, and the only thing we can change is ourselves, to be better than we were yesterday.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory added flowers and their own notes of condolence to a memorial at the scene of Monday's deadly van rampage on Yonge Street.
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