The Raptor’s NBA Championship parade in Toronto was far more than a shooting. Before I get into it, I want to start this off by saying that I do not want to undermine the safety of hundreds of thousands perhaps millions of people or the terrible injuries that will require a significant amount of physical and emotional healing. In time, those physical wounds will heal and for some the emotional wounds will take far, far longer.
I do however, want to talk about the things no one is going to talk about now that these shootings have taken place. Our experience was a legitimately wonderful one, even as we nearly got trampled with our six- and eight-year-old daughters, alongside my 72-year-old mother in law. We got out safely, but I wasn’t sure that would happen.
Throughout the day, I kept hearing rumblings about the beauty of us all congregating to celebrate, despite coming from all walks of life. This is indeed true. Living in Toronto provides us that benefit, one I never dare take for granted. I love a city where Nav Bhatia is a Raptor’s superfan and ends up being the grand marshal of the parade. That man does so much good for Toronto.
From the moment we stepped onto the subway, I had a touching moment with a rider about Demar Derozan, a beloved Raptor that was traded from the team for Kawhi Leonard, and the sadness I felt every time I saw his name on the back of a jersey. He also had a positive and lasting impact on our city. We had a collective chuckle with a co-rider when our southbound subway doors opened and not one person left. We all knew where we were headed. Or how about that poor woman who was going to work and had to face throngs of Raptors fans. She wasn’t getting the day off. Without hesitation, the crowds parted for her.
Bringing our daughters to a place with that many people is crazy. I had some major anxiety going in as I questioned my sanity for bringing them. But, we wanted them to experience this historical event and decided to trust in those around us. We found a safe way into the city square through a picturesque garden at the courthouse. That garden became our oasis of safety when we needed a break and some shade. Once safely inside the square, the people around us were funny, respectful, accommodating, concerned for our well-being, and helpful. They even checked their language more than a few times (without my urging).
At one point we needed a little break and so, I brought my eldest to the garden through what was now a much thicker crowd than before. It was harried and overwhelming for her, but one woman who could tell we were struggling, let us pass. The wrought-iron gates dividing the space we were in, from our oasis had a small door that allowed one person to leave at time. We got out just as we could feel the swell of a push behind us.
Unaware of the shooting that had just taken place, we ventured back into the masses to rejoin our group, but things were even crazier. We could really feel the crushing wave of people trying to escape. Being interested by all things movement, it occurred to me in that moment that my body was no longer my own and I didn’t have a whole lot of control over it. We were now just part of the wave of the crowd. It would have been so easy for us to have fallen and I shudder at the thought of what would happen next. We quickly turned around but were faced with that door again. People wanted in and we wanted out. Add to that, the extra pressure of the crowd at our backs. What was once a secret garden door that allowed us access into all the fun was now a barrier to freedom and a real threat to our safety. Somehow, we got out, but not without a bunch of tears, some heart pounding moments and a guardian angel.
After being reunited with our family, a woman with the most beautiful open face and smile, approached to ask if we were OK. She told me that she helped hold back the people to let us out. I don’t know if I thanked her enough for her kindness, because as we looked to our left we saw a steady flow of people running. Running to get away from the party we had all WAITED for. A place we wouldn’t be too keen on leaving in a hurry. And, so our celebratory day to an end, setting us on the path of getting home only to learn about what had really happened and to reflect on our experience.
That night we had an excellent chat with our girls with our daily gratitude exercise. What came out of it for me was this. Each of the people who made that day so special was different from me, especially if you were to compare us side by side. I am not going to list off the reasons why, because none of it matters. What is more important is how each of these people is the same as me. We all have families, we all want the freedom to feel safe in public spaces and share in that public space without fear, we all want to walk away from these experiences with beautiful, shared memories and ultimately, we all want to get home safely. This was an historical event that deserved to be recognized for what it was.
What happened was not a reflection of all those people celebrating. It was, however, the reflection of the four people among millions who made some very terrible choices. I decided that day to choose to see the good in those around me and not the bad of those select few. My thoughts and love go to all those who were injured and who were made to feel doubt about the safety of our city and the real goodness in people.