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  • May9Wed

    Toronto Strong

    Reflecting on the devastating van attack in North York. May 9, 2018 by Major Sandra Stokes
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    Memorials have arisen at each location where a pedestrian was killed.
    Memorials have arisen at each location where a pedestrian was killed.

    It was a quiet Monday afternoon when our community and family services worker alerted me there had been a terrible attack near the corner of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue in Toronto—just a stone’s throw from where I was sitting in my office. Soon after, I began receiving texts from family and friends across the territory, inquiring, “Are you OK? Are you safe?” I was indeed.

    After being in touch with our divisional office, I knew we were on-call and waiting for direction from the City of Toronto to move into action.

    The next 24 hours were filled with shock and disbelief as reporters from TV stations around the world revealed the horror of what had happened—a man driving a white rental van had deliberately jumped the curb and hit pedestrians, killing 10 people and injuring 16 others.

    I arrived at a prayer vigil the next day somewhat overwhelmed, wondering “What can I possibly do here?” The deep, desperate looks of sadness, anguish and grief are something I’ll not soon forget. Yet, the flowers, candles, pictures and loving, hand-written messages were comforting. Realizing the many cultures and languages of the North York region, I had to content myself that a smile, a gentle touch on the shoulder and a frail prayer to an Almighty God was my offering for now.

    In the days that followed, I was able to attend other prayer vigils and gatherings with people from many faiths. It was a time for collective grief, as well as collective hope and resilience. The reading of Psalm 46 brought reassurance that even in the midst of hurt, pain and loss, in the midst of circumstances we cannot fathom or imagine, that God is the refuge and strength for all people.

    The next Sunday, I joined thousands of other mourners at the “Toronto Strong” vigil organized by the city. I commend them for such a well-organized, meaningful time of sharing and healing. While it was a sombre occasion, it gave testimony to the fact that instead of running away, people embraced each other with help, support and love. We joined our voices with the choir as they sang, “Make me a channel of your peace ... where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon.”

    Continue to pray for our city and for the many affected by this tragedy. I’m learning daily of passersby who witnessed dreadful things. There are seniors in my congregation who have walked this stretch of Yonge Street for years, but now feel troubled and unsafe. Pray for them. Pray for the families who lost loved ones and the first responders.

    While the flowers may fade and the crowds dwindle, we will remember those who were killed in this senseless act of violence.

    Major Sandra Stokes is the corps officer at North York Temple in Toronto.

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