Yesterday was the anniversary for two pretty horrific events: the Halifax Explosion and the Ecole Polytechnique shooting. Both of these events played strong roles in shaping my worldview.
Not being a vampire or other immortal creature, I wasn't alive for the actual explosion but a fair part of my childhood was spent growing up in the Maritimes. I remember being taken to a park and shown a massive chunk of iron that was a part of an anchor which was flung over two miles from the harbour by the force of the explosion. I remember being told that 2000 people died and 9000 were injured, which was one fifth of the population. The city was devastated, with two square kilometres of the city destroyed.
Then, in 1989, an armed man went into Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and shot 14 women out of a deranged sense of entitlement. Women were taking his place at the school, weren't dating him, and had a future where he didn't. So he walked into a classroom with a loaded weapon, separated the male and female students and proceeded to execute the women.
The explosion was the first man-made disaster I became aware of. One ship failed to respect the harbour protocol (because they were in a hurry, because they were tired, it's not clear) and that one decision cost thousands of people their lives and health. There was no action of theirs which contributed to their deaths or injuries and they had little to no warning that it was about to happen. The shooting was the first time I became aware that there are people in the modern world for whom gender or skin colour or some other inherent trait is enough to earn a death sentence. That violence can never be entirely prevented and those who use it indiscriminately can strike without apparent warning.
Both of these events shaped my view of a world which can't be entirely trusted not to drop the other shoe out from under me. They made me aware of how prejudice, hatred and contempt can become a deadly combination and that the only defense is to speak out against it and advocate for protections and understanding. They taught me that there are dangerous people out there, either with intent or through carelessness, and they cannot be identified as easily as the bad guys in my Saturday morning cartoons.
But they also taught me another important lesson. To look for the heroes (or as Mr. Rogers put it "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping").
In Halifax, telegraph dispatcher Vince Coleman stayed at his post to warn an incoming train away from the impending disaster, saving lives. Firefighters rushed to the pier to try and put out the flames before the ship could explode, with 5 of the 6 man crew dying in the explosion. In Montreal, Nathalie Provost confronted the gunman, trying to reason with him and ended up being shot four times, but surviving. She not only completed her degree but encouraged other women to stay in the program and not be afraid. Alain Perreault and Heidi Rathjen, both present during the shooting, launched a gun control petition to prevent such attacks from happening again in Canada.
These are only a few examples. Countless other stories exist, of those who helped others to hide from the shooter, locking doors to keep him from attacking, of those who tried to evacuate children and civilians. And the outpouring of grief and support from those who were not present, but who stepped up to support survivors.
The darkness in the world is real and cannot be denied. Neither of these events were natural, they were the result of decisions which meant they could have been stopped or avoided. But when they happened, there were those who stepped up and became more than expected, when those around them weren't sure what to do. And no matter the horror, the heroes outnumber those who sought to bring darkness and they keep working long after the monsters have been slain or have given up.
Not everyone is a hero and that's okay. There were plenty of people who went through both disasters numbly focused on their own survival or in disbelief that such events could be happening to them. That's a very human reaction.
It's also human to look at both the numb masses and the monsters and feel overwhelmed. As if the world is a terrible and sick place. It's hard to argue against it, especially lately where prejudice and violence are once more openly hand in hand.
But I would also hope that we can remember the heroes. Because no matter how bad it gets, there will always be those bringing light to banish the dark. They deserve equal time in our memories and awareness. And maybe they can inspire us all to be a little more heroic in our day to day lives, conquering the smaller day to day blemishes before they can grow.
Maybe it's because I'm a romance reader and writer, but no matter how dark things get, I will always cling tight to hope and my faith in both heroes and happy endings.