This afternoon, thanks to an announcement made by the organizer of my house concert last night, I attended a service for the victims of the Quebec City shootings at the Ayesha Mosque in Kamloops.
Driving through near-whiteout conditions through the hills above Kamloops, I arrived to find the parking lot was overflowing, with members of the community donning reflective vests to direct people to spots in the local trailer park, and along the road all the way to the highway.
The mosque itself, a modest building, was crowded beyond capacity, but members of the Muslim community stood in the stairwell, motioning well-wishers and supporters into the respective women’s and men’s worship spaces.
Late to arrive due to accidents on the highway, I left my boots in the overflow pile outside on the deck, washed, and made my way downstairs. I was one of the last to squeeze into the hall. I sat on the floor at the back.
Before me sat a man wearing a kippah. Next to him sat a man wearing a turban. And next to him, a man in a clerical collar and a large cross. The mayor and several councillors stood to one side. A TV camera filmed the whole scene.
The remarks I heard from the imam were addressed to the guests. Introduce yourselves, he said, to our community and you will meet men just like the men who were killed. Like the Muslim men among us here, he said, they were professors, members of the public sector, community men, and above all, they were family men.
We are grateful for your support, he said. Please sign the guest book – with Your Worship’s permission it will go to the Islamic Centre in Quebec City not from the Ayesha Mosque, but from Kamloops itself. The mayor nodded vigorously. The brief service concluded with the words that were on stickers on everyone’s jackets: we are stronger together.
As we exited the hall, everyone crowded for the guest book. Next to it were pictures of the six men with descriptions of their lives, their families, their work. Each ended with the same line: Canada was his home.
I signed the book and headed outside, sharing jokes with some young guys from the community as I put freezing boots on over now-wet socks. We spilled into the parking lot, joining the women just exiting the other hall. I was greeted several times by name and it dawned on me that almost everyone from my house concert the night before was there. I felt grateful beyond words.
Snacks were shared around: coffee, eggrolls, samosas, and Timbits. We stood and chatted in the falling snow. It was a strange combination of a funeral, and a celebration. Everyone was thanking everyone else.
For being there. For being who they were. For being together.
We are stronger together. As I headed out onto the Trans-Canada, into the snowstorm, I felt like we were invincible.