COLUMN: Connecting beyond times of tragedy

Opportunities abound to reach out every day, writes columnist Taslim Jaffer

Before the puck dropped on the final Canucks game of the season this past Saturday in Edmonton, the announcer made a poignant remark regarding the Humboldt Broncos tragedy.

He said, “In hockey, it doesn’t matter if you are a top star getting all the adulation, you’re a journeyman just struggling to stay in the league, you’re a coach or a trainer, what everyone in the game has in common is that they all rode the bus.”

The news of this horrific accident came to us at a time we were already mourning the loss of a young girl in our neighbourhood. Our school was reeling, our teachers devastated, and my fellow parents and I, simply gutted. It didn’t matter whether we were administrators, staff, classmates or parents, what we all had in common is that we belonged to the same community.

During times of loss, we are reminded of the common thread we share. If you have ever attended a prayer service in a language you didn’t understand, you know that the cry of a mother is a haunting sound that transcends any barriers you may think we have.

Our visceral reactions, our basic human emotions, tie us together.

And we can go beyond that. We can connect even deeper. We can build bridges across communities and neighbourhoods and provinces and even countries, as we have seen this past week.

We just have to be willing.

I would love to see this happen not just at the low of untimely death or the high of an Olympic gold medal. I would love to see this on a daily basis when we interact with co-workers, others we run into, strangers we pass on the street.

When we have moments during which we cross paths, even if they are seemingly insignificant, I hope we do something to infuse a little more humanity. So that it’s not only in times of crisis that we learn about each other: how we pray or what we value, what lifts our spirits or gives us hope.

So, how do we do that? We start with the people we already know. We go a little beyond, “Hey, how’s it going?” before rushing off. We take a little time out of our busy days and call someone to check in.

Create space for a genuine human interaction, which, let’s face it, seems to happen less frequently these days.

How does this help us get to know people outside our inner circles? Consider it practise for when you see someone at the coffee shop, sitting alone, looking into her mug with a distraught expression. An opportunity to ask, “Is everything OK?” Maybe she just realized her order was mixed-up, maybe she received bad news, maybe everything is fine.

It almost doesn’t matter what the outcome is because in the process you’ve connected, even briefly.

On a recent trip to Ucluelet with my family, we walked the Lighthouse Loop of the Wild Pacific Trail. When we got to the lighthouse, my dad said he would rest a bit on the bench while my husband, kids and I explored.

When we met up again, he introduced me to a gentleman who sat beside him. In their short time together, my dad learned this man has returned to the same spot every spring for the last 20 years.

That blip in each of their lifetimes that they happened to cross paths, they exchanged something about themselves, and that’s just… nice.

Learning about this man’s ritual made me think of my own – ones I currently practise and ones I might want to initiate. I was reminded that we each have things we hold dear and sacred.

Every person has a story and, like yours, it is filled with valuable lessons, trivial tidbits and everything in between. We can do a lot in the way of building bridges when we share these parts of ourselves.

Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections.

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