Grief Has No Boundary

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Oct. 23) — I had a revealing conversation with my son late Wednesday afternoon. Shane called from the University of Guelph. We talked about the tragic events of the day in Ottawa and the Maple Leafs/Senators game being rightfully postponed. Just at the time we would normally say goodbye, Shane paused: “Dad, why am I feeling so sad over what happened today? I’m having a hard time shaking it.”

My reply was swift and to the point. “Because you’re human, Shane. And you have compassion for others. That’s why you’re feeling lousy. Every person across the land with a conscience is feeling the same way. A young, un-armed man was doing his job – ceremoniously guarding the National War Memorial – when some maniac came up and killed him at point-blank range. The poor guy never had a chance. Now, he’s gone and his family has to carry on without him. If that doesn’t make you feel blue, nothing will. So, hang in there and call me if you want to talk.”

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NATHAN CIRILLO — THE RADIANT YOUNG MAN, CEREMONIOUSLY GUARDING OUR NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL — WHOSE LIFE WAS SNUFFED OUT IN AN INSTANT ON WEDNESDAY.

When I hung up, I realized that Wednesday was Shane’s 9/11. And that perhaps I had steeled myself, at age 55, to these barbaric acts. And to other tragedies. Shane hadn’t yet been born when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 74 seconds after lifting off from Cape Canaveral in January 1986. It was just before my 28th birthday and I walked about traumatized for the better part of a week. Every time I saw the beautiful astronaut, Judith Resnick, smiling on her way to the launch pad, my heart broke a little more. At no point in my life had I felt such existential grief.

When the world changed on Sep. 11, 2001, Shane was only four and much too young to comprehend. When the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entering the atmosphere in February 2003 – taking with it seven more brave souls – Shane was six and enjoying a hockey trip to Florida with his mom, dad and three-year-old sister. So, it’s easy to understand why my son felt, to his way of thinking, irrationally upset over Ottawa. It was the first real shot to the gut in his young life.

There was another huge problem on Wednesday. Once Michael Zehaf-Bibeau – himself later killed – was identified as the alleged murderer of War Memorial guard Nathan Cirillo, I kept hearing the same thing over and over. From Wolf Blitzer on CNN to my friend Peter Mansbridge on CBC and anywhere else I turned for reaction, I was told that Bibeau had been a “recent convert to Islam.”

Oh yeah? Whose Islam?

Certainly not the one I’m accustomed to based on the Muslim friends in my life. And, not the Islam that millions of other peace-loving souls follow by worshiping the Qur’an. If some demented moron killed an innocent person and was later discovered to be a “recent convert to Judaism,” I’d take goddamned exception to hearing it. The Islam that newsmen and women referred to on Wednesday is some warped, delusional mutation of a faith that deserves no-such accord. The professional news-people that impart these messages understand it as well. They err, unintentionally, by assuming their viewers can make the same distinction.

One other thing: Would it have killed Major League Baseball to have God Bless America AND O Canada performed in the seventh-inning of Wednesday night’s World Series game at Kansas City? On this lone occasion? In case the MLB tall foreheads forget, there happens to be a team that plays north of the border – the Toronto Blue Jays. In the country that is, today, mourning a senseless act of derangement and terror. An extra two minutes would likely not have bungled the usual four-hour TV presentation. Americans are not nearly as ignorant of Canada as we think they are. I know. A pretty fine American is the mother of my two children.

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GOD BLESS AMERICA – AND ONLY GOD BLESS AMERICA – IS SUNG AT THE WORLD SERIES WEDNESDAY NIGHT IN KANSAS CITY. FOX/SPORTSNET

But, maybe that’s the way we look at things “up here.” And if so, we need not apologize. As Shane proved on Wednesday afternoon, grief has no boundary.

Nor should it ever.

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