Searching for home in the headlines

Off the Beat

chantelle-lee otb

At first, I didn’t understand.

I was walking back to my apartment from The Daily Californian office when I got the New York Times news alert that 10 people were hit and killed by a car in my hometown of Toronto.

I thought it was a car accident — that a driver had lost control and drove into the sidewalk. But when I went on Twitter, words like “attack” and “deliberate” swirled off my phone screen and blurred my vision.

The first thing I did, obviously, was call my family. When they answered, I breathed a sigh of relief. Everyone was OK, they assured me. But when we hung up, I started to cry.

Of course, I wasn’t as affected as those who were there, or those who lost their loved ones in the attack — no one I knew was hurt. The 10 people who died and the 16 people who were injured were not my family members or friends. But as someone who has lived in Toronto nearly all my life, I still felt like something I loved had been ripped out and ruined.

No one ever expects something terrifying or violent to happen in their own backyard. You think your home is immune to that sort of thing — I thought my home was. After all, Toronto is one of the safest major cities in the world.

Now it was the site of one of the biggest mass killings in Canadian history. And at this terrifying moment, I was more than 4,000 kilometers away. Away from my family. Away from my home.

So I did the only thing that afforded me even a semblance of stability amid the chaos: I watched the news. Throughout the entire day, while I was in class or meetings, I was listening to CBC’s broadcast, reading The Toronto Star and scrolling through Toronto reporters’ tweets. Reading the news made me feel like I was a little bit closer to understanding how this tragedy happened and how my community was coping.

As I walked across campus, frazzled and confused and anxiously switching my screen so I could keep the news in the corner of my eye, my friends and classmates in Berkeley continued about their days as usual, unaffected by tragedy.

Logically, I understood. Toronto isn’t their home — the incident doesn’t hurt them the same way it hurts me. Obviously, I follow more Toronto news outlets on social media, so I would hear about the attack faster.

But it was hard to be with people who were joking around when all I could think about was the attack. I couldn’t ignore this huge disconnect between me and everyone else on this campus. I envied their bubble of ignorance, but I also resented it. How can no one be talking about this attack? How can no one know about this? Why do only I care?

All I wanted to do was go home. I wished the distance between here and there would disappear, and that I could walk down the street and suddenly be back in Toronto. I wished I could be with my family, rather than thousands of kilometers away, surrounded by people who didn’t understand why I was so “out of it” that day.

Seeing my hometown mourn while my adopted city, Berkeley, continued to hum with the buzz of everyday life seemed fundamentally wrong. I felt isolated, not only from Toronto, but also from myself — I felt out of my body, almost. I felt lost.

As the week went on, though, I slowly found myself getting back into my regular rhythm — class, Daily Cal, homework and so on. My routine took my mind off the aftermath of the tragedy back home. But there were still moments when I would stop myself, feeling guilty because if I wasn’t in this perpetual state of mourning, then I was insensitive to Toronto’s loss, right?

I thought so, but as the news coverage shifted from the attack itself to coping with the aftermath, my perspective started to change.

Dan Bilefsky, a New York Times correspondent from Montreal, wrote a piece about what it was like to cover the Toronto attack as a journalist. He said he noticed “people getting on with their lives, unbowed by fear” — Torontonians at bars, hockey games and even jogging past the scene of the incident.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Mayor John Tory’s words at the special city council meeting the day after the attack: “The people who call this city home are shaken and we mourn together, but we are not broken and we will not be broken.”

I saw this when Toronto residents started a memorial and held a vigil near the site of the attack. Condolences were written in many different languages — a testament to Toronto’s multiculturalism. The hashtag #TorontoStrong was gaining traction on Twitter. People from my community rallied together to support each other in this time of tragedy.

This news gave me the support I needed — it made me feel like I was a little closer to home. Torontonians were still mourning, but they didn’t let this break them — they stayed strong and moved on. And that helped me realize that I could too.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the summer semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.

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