Very Still and Very Quiet
I didn’t see anyone on their cellphone.
It’s strange how that’s become the marker of a somber event, but there were perhaps three hundred people in the crowd along the funeral route where I was standing this morning in downtown Hamilton, Ontario and I did not see one of them sending a text message or talking to a friend on their phone. There were some flags and a few handwritten signs. Many people were wearing the plastic poppies that veterans sell outside of stores each year for Remembrance Day. There were more police officers than I can remember seeing at any public event I’ve attended in Canada. Overhead, there was a helicopter drifting purposefully throughout.
The procession was for Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a 24 year old reservist soldier from Hamilton who was given a military funeral this morning at Christ’s Church Cathedral on James Street North. This street has become the hope of the city in recent years as new businesses have moved in and attracted a hip young consumer base. But it’s always been the heart of the city, tying the harbor and the lake to Main street. Hamilton has long been a working class community defined as much by its immigrants as its long-time residents and James was where the immigrants traditionally landed and first established lives and businesses here. This was true of the Irish, the Portuguese, the Chinese, the Italians- specifically the Sicilians, as thousands established residences around James who came from the Racalmuto region of Sicily- and now migrating from Toronto. They tend to be younger than the more established residents of Hamilton. Most of the crowd where I was standing today was working class and older than me. I saw one person who was younger. They were very still and very quiet.
The younger people were in the procession in uniform; the reservists and soldiers. At some point, the young men and women who serve in uniform actually became younger than myself, or I became older than them. And, instead of just thinking how strange it would be to be deployed to another country to fight and possibly kill another young person and possibly get killed, I started thinking about how young they are and how much more terrible all of that would be at that age. I imagine some of them have thought about how it could be them to die in the line of duty. Cpl. Cirillo was shot in the back by a lunatic while guarding a statue with a ceremonial, unarmed gun, however; I don’t know that anyone could have imagined such a thing. His son is five years old.
Everyone there looked a bit bewildered. There were very few people crying. I saw only two women with tears in their eyes. At one point, I looked up and saw an officer on horseback wipe his eyes and quickly followed suit. A man next to me made the sign of the cross as the gun carriage carrying Cpl. Cirillio’s coffin passed. For the most part, the crowd was very still and very quiet. Afterwards, no one seemed to know quite where to go.
There were many news stories that began “Cpl Nathan Cirillo came home today…” and several politicians who said this was a “horrible reminder” and spoke of the “bravery” of the men and women of the armed forces. Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke at the funeral and Cirillo’s son and mother were there. Between the shooting and the funeral, the government sped through legislation to strengthen Canada’s anti-terror laws by boosting the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s(CSIS) powers to track, monitor, spy on, and “preventatively detain” suspected terrorists. The 32 year old who shot Cirilo was a long-time petty criminal and recent convert to Islam who was frequently arrested, went in and out of homeless shelters, and believed the Devil was after him. Today, Harper said that Canadians will not be intimidated. Everywhere I looked along the parade route, I saw snipers, police officers, helicopters, and soldiers. They were very still and very quiet.
but then began abusing prescription drugs