The Night After the Danforth Shooting

I live just east of the shooting that took place in Toronto on the Danforth in July. Writing here, I don’t mention anything about motive, about why this happened. I don't know why this happened. The piece is about a small personal gesture and the meaning it had for me in relation to the event. But as preface, a few words about different ways of trying to find meaning and response.

...with every murder, flood, bridge collapse and tragedy come the questions in no particular order: Were people killed? Hurt? Who? Why? Who did this? Am I safe? Are you ok? And Who can fix this??

And then answers: misogyny, mental health issues, racism, homophobia, terrorism, disease, corruption, environmental degradation... They lead down paths, separate and intersecting paths, calling the courageous into action.

Standing at the vigil two days after the shooting, I watched priests, rabbis, cops, and politicians slip through the crowd to get to the front. My neighbour leaned over and said- “There are those who see it as a criminal event and those who see it as a spiritual shakeup and those who see it as a political opportunity.”

I’ve always felt just a bit dumb that I can’t see the events and their causes and remedies as clearly as others seem to. I’m never certain of what needs to be done. Get stuck in the stunnage of emotion. This time I did something unintentionally that felt as much a response as any. So I wrote from there.

 

*

The night after the Danforth shooting, I washed my feet in the bathtub. They felt sticky and dirty from being out in the street in my sandals. The summer street, normally busy with people, was blank, except for police and reporters and stunned lookers paused at yellow tape. When a guy ducked under the tape, a cop yelled, "Hey!! Stop!" And then "Do you live on the Danforth?" Only the yes could go home. It was barren.

I thought I'd get off the subway at Broadview and walk east towards home, past Second Cup, Demetre's and Christina's, the restaurants and coffee shops and dessert places where three people were shot and killed and 11 others were hurt at 10pm the night before. I wanted to bow.

But I don't live on the Danforth. Only near the Danforth so I couldn't get past the tape.  The stunned space outside perfectly reflected the vacant space inside me. I felt dutiful but not with feelings. I simply needed to put my body there.

 In the evening, I spoke to a friend and by chance my father in another city. He was having surgery Wednesday and I wanted to hear his voice before. I told him about the shooting and he was unusually empathetic. "That must be hard," he said. It surprised me to hear that from him, not overwhelmingly, but enough to get through the survival armour. Inside, the animal-me that had frozen from shock began to shake. I got off the phone and cried. In the thaw, there was a pure chaotic stream of emotion which led me to write and post one paragraph on Facebook.

Shock, you know, then it wears off and you feel. Right? You know what I’m talking about. I get why the species evolved to give us shock first. Survival. The feels that come after? Holy. (As in moly.) So Love, baby. I’m talking the real stuff friends. None of this fake love. Love you, even the ones I don’t like, even the ones I never met. Might have to erase this. Just had to write it. Send your love to your loved ones then to your hated ones then to everyone in between and don’t forget the people going to work tomorrow on the Danforth. I’m doing it too.

Then I washed my feet before bed.

 Once I had them under running water in the tub, sitting on the edge, I looked down at the chipped red paint on my nails that had been done at Rainbow Nails on the Danforth a month before. I thought of Abu Jassar.

When I was 21, I went to visit a friend in Israel, a high school friend in Tel Aviv. We went walking in the hot streets one evening. My friend had always looked at the world more clearly from a younger age. More widely. Saw people. Injustices. He'd spent summers with Bedouin friends in Sinai. And that night he took me to see his friend Abu Jassar who lived nearby. His Palestinian friend.

 Just the thought of going to this man's house felt like a crisis with an imaginary cultural punishment to come.

 I should say the high school I went to was Herzliah in Montreal. A conservative Hebrew Day School, named after Theodor Herzl the spiritual father of Zionism. The teachers were former Israeli army officers and superannuated rabbis. There was tension in the corners of their mouths. We studied Torah, Hebrew, Jewish history, Prophets and math English and French from 8-4. No art. Gym was lunch.  

It was a place that was as much impregnated with anxiety and fear of history, of the future, of otherness, as it was pumped with cultural pride, religion, and Israeli enthusiasm. It told me who I was to be, and who I was to be with, and who to fear. 

I think now with grief how deeply furrowed that line of fear I learned not to cross even inside myself. Going with my friend to his friend was big.  

When we got there, Abu Jassar invited us in. Then he asked something I'd never been asked before: "Would you like to wash your feet?" If it was a ritual from the heat or dirt, I'm not sure. It felt wonderful. Cool and soothing, washing away the day. Then he brought us oranges. That's all I remember as well as his name which I loved. It cut me open in my sweetest place. Such kindness he would likely never remember.

I came back from the Danforth after the killings and washed my hands, as is the ritual when you enter a Jewish house of mourning. Or just after a dirty day in the city. And then I washed my feet.

There was something a little miraculous about this gesture. Like remembering an original embrace that crossed a line inside me where I was not supposed to go. It was an action that was not doctrinal or perfunctory, but generous, spontaneous. I thought of the people killed, the ones hurt, those in shock, the family of the killer, and the killer, killings that have happened here lately that have been happening in cities and countries everywhere and forever. It was a small unexpected gesture, and it brought a memory of kindness, and a way to bow.

Ronna Bloom, 2018

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Ronna Bloom