Mere weeks ago, families of Grade 10 French Immersion students at Aldershot High School hosted students from Paris. Our kids will go to Paris in March. It’s part language training, cultural exchange, and loads of fun. My oldest, Miranda, did the exchange; this year it’s Alexandra.
Our kids went to restaurants, Canada’s Wonderland, took to the streets for Hallowe’en – a tradition not celebrated in many European countries. They visited landmarks in Toronto, Niagara, Burlington.
In short, they took part in exactly the kind of activities that 129 Parisians were doing when they were gunned down yesterday by cowardly acts of violence. As our family joined with the rest of the nation watching the horrors unfold on Paris streets, our thoughts went to these students and their families. These were our friends; indeed new members of our family with whom we had broken bread, shared shelter, enjoyed laughter, and tears when it was time for them to leave.
Were they okay? How terrified they must be. We cannot know from our blessed safety and security in Burlington, Canada, what it would be like to wonder if you will return from a night at the concert hall or cafe. At least 129 precious souls did not.
And yet, fear does not last. It disappears into the vacuum of the darkness that gave it birth. The people rise up together, love and light casts out evil. The free world joins with the people of Paris.
“What the terrorists want is to scare us and fill us with dread,” said French President Francois Hollande. “There is indeed reason to be afraid. There is dread, but in the face of this dread, there is a nation that knows how to defend itself, that knows how to mobilize its forces and, once again, will defeat the terrorists.”
These attacks occurred two days after Remembrance Day celebrations across the world. Hundreds joined together at the Cenotaph outside Burlington City Hall to remember our dead and honour our armed forces, who fought and still fight for the freedoms we enjoy today.
During the ceremony, as if on cue, two planes including the historic Lancaster bomber flew overhead. Tears filled my eyes, and those of the people around me. A long time ago, those planes took our sons and fathers to battle. They weren’t returning to the safety of a hangar in Hamilton. They were heading toward death and danger, to protect us from it.
Freedom won over oppression. It always will. But we must remain vigilant. We must stand against the forces of tyranny and terrorism, not simply in our borders but in all borders. Thou shall not prevail. We shall overcome.
The fight for freedom never ends, it simply takes on a new battlefield.
It consumes new victims. Alan Kurdi died on a beach in Turkey, joined by his mother Rehana and brother Galib, in a desperate attempt to eventually reach relatives in Canada. The picture of Alan’s lifeless body galvanized the world into action.
This brave and dangerous journey to a better life reminds us people will be free. People will risk dying to seek the freedoms we enjoy.
In “Home” Somalian poet Warsan Shire writes:
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
We must, and we will, open our border and our homes to Syrian refugees seeking freedom from oppression. We will be a welcoming beacon of freedom for all souls in our world seeking asylum and sanctuary. Those efforts are already underway in hundreds of communities across Canada, including Burlington. We will not succumb to the whispered fear of those who would have us close hearts and our hearths to those who have a different religion or culture.
Come March, my daughter will be on a plane to Paris with her friends. She will embrace her Parisian brothers and sisters, walk the streets and cafes, visit the monuments to our fallen soldiers who won our freedoms here and across Europe. She will join hands with her classmates, and they will climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower and shout, “We are not afraid!”
“Nous n’avons pas peur!”