These are dark times, but we will bear them

People are sad, and frightened, and angry, and with good reason.

On Tuesday, ISIS carried out a coordinated attack in Brussels. More than 30 people are  dead and more than 200 people have been injured after three separate bomb blasts.

Just over a week ago, a car bomb in Ankara killed at least 32 people.

A week prior to that, an ISIS truck bomb killed at least 60 people in Baghdad.

Just over a month prior to that, Boko Haram attacked a village in Nigeria. At least 86 people were killed, many of them children. I cannot even fathom the horror described by witnesses who said they heard children screaming as they burned to death in their fire-bombed homes.

Sadly, only the attacks on Brussels have seemed to be major headline news in the west, but you get the picture. These are dark times.

In the wake of these atrocities, isolationism, xenophobia, fear-mongering, and hate dominate the airwaves. The western world is glued to their screens. Everyone wants to feel safe. Everyone wants to make sure It Won’t Happen to Them. Donald Trump (arguably the most egotistical, bigoted, openly misogynistic and proudly ignorant presidential candidate of my lifetime) has a very good chance at becoming the next president of the United States, and we are ignoring many other immediate and pressing concerns (like the already-occurring and widespread devastation of climate change) in our obsession with the much smaller possibility of harm at the hands of a terrible few.

These are dark times. Absolutely. There is no other way to describe them. So many horrible things have happened in the past couple of years that the satirical website The Onion has published a very sad, cynical piece entitled World Makes Final Attempt To Try To Understand This Shit, and I read it and thought to myself, yep, that’s exactly how I feel. These are dark times indeed, and 2016 has already been marked as a dark year.

That said, ten years ago, in 2006, the U.S. was waging unsuccessful war in Iraq. Iran announced they’d be enriching uranium. Both North Korea and India were testing missiles. In Mumbai, more than 200 people were killed when a series of bombs exploded on commuter trains during rush hour. Israel and Hezbollah were firing rockets at each other. And a man in Pennsylvania shot and killed five Amish schoolgirls execution-style before turning the gun on himself. Dark times.

In 1996, two years after the Rwandan genocide that resulted in the murder of more than 500 000 Tutsis, Hutu refugees in Zaire (unable to return to Rwanda for fear of retributive violence), were finding themselves caught in the middle of a Tutsi-Hutu civil war and cut off from medical and food supplies. A U.S. base in Saudi Arabia was bombed, resulting in the deaths of 19 servicemen. Britons were panicking following the outbreak of Mad Cow disease. In Canada, a  man named Mark Chahal shot and killed nine of his relatives before killing himself, and the last Canadian residential school was closed only that year. Dark times.

In 1986, a West Berlin discotheque called La Belle was bombed, killing 3 and injuring 230. Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant melted down, poisoning  the region and spewing radioactive particles into the atmosphere. In Oklahoma, a United States Postal Service employee named Patrick Sherrell killed 14 of his co-workers before shooting himself. This incident was the first of several shootings at US post offices that were the inspiration for the slang term “going postal”.

1976 – 12 bombs planted by the IRA exploded in London. An earthquake killed more than 22 000 people in Guatemala and Honduras. Air France Flight 139 was hijacked. The Cambodian genocide, orchestrated and carried out by the Khmer Rouge, was ongoing.

1966 – The United States military was intervening (unsuccessfully) in Vietnam. Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution was beginning in China.  Planes were crashing. There were floods, massacres, and military coups.

1956 – Actually, all things considered this seemed like a pretty good year.  But you see where I’m going with this. 1946 – the world was recovering and rebuilding after the death and destruction of WWII, and was also being forced to confront the atrocities of the Holocaust, which the world’s major powers had done little to prevent.  1936 – storm clouds were gathering over Europe as Nazi Germany flexed its military muscle. 1926 – both Al Capone and Benito Mussolini were surviving assassination attempts. 1916 – Europe was in its third calendar year of the First World War, which had ushered in the era of mechanized warfare and resulted in unprecedented carnage and loss of human life.

I’m actually NOT trying to be depressing right now. I’m trying to demonstrate that we have ALWAYS lived in dark times. Sometimes, the epicentre of the darkness was far away. Sometimes, it was on our doorstep. The past hundred years have brought a non-stop parade of cruelty, misery, and untold suffering.

But we’re still here. If anything, a cursory glance at some of the headlines of the past century (which I was able to review and compile with the help of Wikipedia,, and the online encyclopedia/almanac Infoplease) should be ample evidence not only of the inevitability of darkness, grief, and trouble in our lives, but also of our resilience. All this terrible shit has happened and we’re still here.

It is true that in many cases, the conflict or attack or natural disaster was happening “over there” somewhere, and that the terrorist attacks in Brussels (or the deadly attacks in Paris last year) have brought these “dark times” closer to home. Many of us are very fortunate. Many of us have had the luxury of growing up without the constant threat of violence, and now we must consider our lives in the context of proximity to violence, and we must consider the possibility of losing our loved ones and having our worlds shattered.

But in many ways we already do. It’s true that most of us here in Canada have not lost a loved one to a terrorist attack, but most of us have lost someone to cancer. Or to an accident. Or to mental illness. At an individual level, there are horrible, senseless, seemingly unbearable things happening to and around us all of the time. And you know what?

We bear them. Even when we think we could never possibly bear them, we do.

We bear them. We pick up the pieces and we carry on, maybe for the sake of our families, maybe because we have hope for a better future, maybe because we don’t know what else to do but keep putting one foot in front of the other. And many of us still find happiness–maybe not all the time, but sometimes. And that is wonderful.

My heart aches for those who lost people they loved in Brussels, and Ankara, and Baghdad, and Nigeria, and everywhere else around the world that is experiencing violence in these dark times. Because they are dark, and I am frightened, and I need something to hold on to.

So I will hold on to this: these have always been dark times. And we will bear them, hopefully, with compassion and humanity. And we will NOT give up on the human race and we will keep putting one foot in front of the other the way our parents did and our grandparents did and our great-grandparents did and our great-great-grandparents did, and maybe maybe maybe as we go we will wear the darkness down under our feet, little by little, and someday the path we tread (or that our children’s children’s children tread) will be a little lighter.

And that’s all I’ve got.

"Hope", an allegorical painting by George Frederic Watts

“Hope”, an allegorical painting by George Frederic Watts