In the weeks after 9/11, my younger sister was harassed on her high school campus.
Go back to your country.
Not in the kind of school featured on the TV show “Glee”, but on her high school campus in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was an acutely distressing time for both of us, ages 17 and 15, trying to understand that being an ABCD (American-Born Confused Desi) had become more than a teasing label from cousins in India. Trying to understand that there was no corner of the world untouched by the carcinogenic dust of the collapsed towers.
And more than fifteen years later, walking her dog through the postcard-worthy main streets of a sunny San Francisco suburb, she heard it again.
There have been other incidents in between, of course, for all of us. Some scary, some depressing, at various locations on the globe. But easy enough to turn these into a family joke or a tune to whistle in the dark.
Go back to your country.
This time, not high school students, not the relative safety of a campus. This time a grown man, menacing and erratic, following her on a public street. At the mercy of that public, she went into the nearest store, and at least what one expects of coastal Californians occurred—she was met with soothing words and sympathy.
There have also been hits to the community, attacks around the world both lethal and otherwise. Attacks that ripple through the South Asian network in the Bay Area like warnings about the Big One– the impending and inevitable major earthquake that will occur on one of the regional fault lines.
Can you be shocked without being surprised? I’m not surprised. It’s not surprising that angry people take up arms and lash out against symbols of their fear, despair, hatred…any and every poisonous feeling that bubbles over the veneered surface of human civilization.
The dictionary tells me the following: “SHOCK –  cause (someone) to feel surprised and upset”. The second definition:
“carriage after carriage shocked fiercely against the engine”
That’s how it feels to think about the men in the bar, the man in his driveway.
“Bullet after bullet shocked fiercely against their bodies”.
Maybe that definition is archaic, but I am assuaged by it nonetheless. The tweets-turned-headlines shock fiercely against my confidence and hope. But they don’t surprise me.
They scare me plenty, though, and through that anxiety pang wild streaks of guilt. Does this make me part of the problem? I could be down there, helping. But then I remind myself that Canada isn’t immune to this and never has been.
It’s not like you’re hiding out, I soothe myself. You’re not safe here either.