The news in Saskatchewan has been full of heartache for the last week. First, the victim impact statements for the Humboldt bus crash brought wave after wave of loss. Then, Tammy Brown was found murdered in her home in Saskatoon. Late Friday evening, the Redwood trial in Regina ended with a jury delivering a guilty sentence in the murder of Celeste Yawney. I began the weekend wanting to crawl into a hole and never come out.
I have been avoiding too much news for two long years now. The headlines feel like trap wires and the stories have too many triggers. I wade by tip-toes into the comments only on rare occasions, because I don’t have the strength to read with compassion most days. But I need to remember these people who have joined my sister in death. And I developed a practice of praying for their grieving families, and ours.
One word kept catching me in the cautious steps into the overwhelming outpouring of sympathies: unimaginable.
I might have used this word before our own worst nightmare. But I do not use it now. The stuff of fiction and horror movies has become our awful, terrible, actual reality.
The things that movies and TV series and novels are written about have happened in our family. For months after Abbie’s death, I could hardly find a show, movie, or book that did not make entertainment out of the themes of our loss. And even as I have been able to watch and read more widely in the last year, I am constantly shocked at how rarely grief features in the storylines.
As these stories and ours play out in the news – and in real people’s actual lives – I am increasingly convinced that the legal process we are wading through is not capable of delivering anything that could be called justice. In these real situations there is no such thing. There is only heartache and loss. Slower than all the longest damn Januaries that will ever be, real people are just trying to heal.
But none of this is unimaginable. All if it is actually horribly possible, and real – for some of us the reality is just more intimate than others.
Albert Einstein wrote that “The
world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed
without changing our thinking. If we want to change the world, we have to
change our thinking…no problem can be solved from the same consciousness that
created it. We must learn to see the
So first, a tragic collision. A semi-driver has acknowledged his responsibility and his remorse. And still, sixteen families have empty chairs around their dinner tables, holes in the fabric of their being. Others are crawling through the pages of recovering from the survival. We have created a world where individuals need to work more than safety laws allow, where companies are not held accountable for their roles, where industries are untouchable. We need to change our thinking. This collision is not unimaginable. Given how frequently we think arriving quickly matters more than obeying speed limits, or responding to a text message is more important than our own or others’ safety or lives, it is surprising how relatively rare this kind of tragedy is.
And in three particular cases where women are dead with their intimate partners arrested and charged with murder, I have to ask what is it in our thinking that has allowed us to believe that domestic violence leading to death is unimaginable? The research about domestic violence is devastatingly clear: without intervention and significant supports, aggression and control escalate to the point that the danger of leaving is equal to or greater than the destruction of staying. Further, the protections afforded to ensure the rights of the accused cause systemic risk and loss of rights to the victims of domestic violence. We have created a world where our systems are partly to blame for these three women’s death. I’m starting to think that it could be so much different.
The problem with unimaginable tragedy is that assumes that these unfortunate realities are simply a given in the world we live in. We cannot eradicate all pain, to be sure, but we can address the root causes of traffic accidents and domestic violence, because death is not an unimaginable outcome of driving through an intersection at traffic speeds or the escalation of interpersonal violence.
This weekend I felt defeated. And I am not helpless.
It matters every time I get in the car and don’t touch my phone, obey the traffic laws, drive defensively, and pull over when I am tired. It matters when I follow my workplace rules for safety, and work to change rules which are not serving people. And it matters every time we challenge our society’s falsely held assumptions that bottom lines are more valuable than human life.
It matters that I take care of my own mental health, ask for help when I am in over my head, pay attention when others seem unwell, make hard decisions. It matters when I listen, believe someone who is vulnerable or in pain, give to organizations who provide shelter and support, write letters, advocate and vote. It matters that I donate to people in need, send cards, go to funerals, make cookies, cry on shoulders, lament and cry. It matters that we work toward building a reality in this world where this kind of pain is so much less possible.
All these things we can do are not unimaginable: they will change the world if we are brave enough to see the world through to another way. There are countless more kids in busses and women suffering violence whose lives depend on our willingness to change the world.