Monday, April 30, 2018
The Memorial Service & Strength
Thousands gathered for a vigil and memorial service in Toronto last night for the victims of the senseless, cowardly van attack on Yonge St. that killed ten and injured many more. Some of the victims were in their twenties, with all of life before them. The oldest was in her nineties, and while we could conclude she'd had a long and full life, her friends say that she still had purpose in each day. What they had in common was walking along a sidewalk on a sunny day and being attacked by a young man whose rage about life was taken out on people he didn't know. Most of the victims were women, which was likely the killer's intention.
How do we find meaning when something cruelly meaningless like this happens? Dozens of articles have been written about misogyny and terrorism and the influence of social media. Some have been very thoughtful and touching, while others have given the uneasy feeling that a tragedy was being used to further the writers' talking points. There have been radio phone-ins and television panels parsing every aspect of this tragedy.
There has been a make-shift memorial on that section of Yonge St., the sort which came into being after the death of Princess Diana twenty years ago. We have grown accustomed to the profusion of flower bouquets and notes, also from strangers, for the most part.
The memorial service or vigil has a history which goes back much further, arguably through the centuries. They are held in churches and other places of worship, or include religious leaders. Of course many of us gather at public cenotaphs on Remembrance Day every November and always there is a religious or spiritual element to the service. In Toronto last night representatives from several religions spoke, including the United Church minister from a congregation near the site of the attack. Candles were lit, choirs sang and, as might be expected, Amazing Grace was sung.
I have participated in or presided at a number of memorial services, including a solemn gathering just after another misogynist killed fifteen women at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal nearly thirty years ago. They are an opportunity to enter into the pain and invite God's presence, even if there are no answers.
At the memorial service yesterday dignitaries including the mayor of Toronto, the premiers of Ontario and Quebec, as well as the Prime Minister and Governor General of Canada were in attendance. In the end, though, these services are for everyday people seeking solace and understanding if the face of great sadness and loss. The solidarity and hope which comes from numbers of participants invoking the presence of God is essential now and will continue to be important in the challenges of our lives.