Calgary Cares: Healing with Compassion


Today, we remain a community in mourning. Calgary is well known for its clear running water; right now that includes the tears being shed in countless homes, offices, and classrooms. Water in all forms can cleanse and heal…if we allow it to by literally going with the flow, instead of resisting.

When a senseless tragedy like the murder of young people happens at the hands of a peer, with a motive yet unknown, it shakes all of us to the core. The closer we are to the victims or the accused, the more acute and profound the pain and grieving becomes. As time passes, many of us are learning just how close we were to being directly and intimately affected by the pain of one very frightened young man; this includes my family.

About a year ago, the Boston Marathon bombing happened. The motto that emerged, “Boston Strong,” expresses the civic resiliency and unity that emerged from their galvanizing tragedy. I’ve seen a few “Calgary Strong” bumper stickers since our epic floods in the summer of 2013, but the Calgary Stampede’s spontaneous adoption of the brilliant “Hell or High Water” motto captured our hearts as THE expression of our own community spirit, teamwork and dedication…quite literally defiance in the wake of widespread destruction.

Calgary is an economically vibrant oasis within North America. Our financial wealth is on full display everywhere you turn, and our city definitely has swagger. We emerged collectively from the 2013 floods with our heads held high, though wary of the remaining risks. We responded like a tough warrior who was wounded…it made us more determined. This made us all even prouder to be Calgarians. It may also have unintentionally deepened our longer term sense of invincibility.

This situation is very different from the 2013 floods. The sudden death of five young people is a visceral tragedy, and it carries with it an incredibly powerful opportunity for healing of a different kind. It has wounded us all in one way or another. In the midst of this pain, with our vulnerability on full display, is it possible for us to find hope and healing in a new, gentle and soft way? Can we find it within our hearts to respond to this crisis differently, to respond with compassion?

Compassion has many faces and forms. It can be in the form of holding someone while they mourn the loss of a friend, or listening while they vent their anger and frustration at the senselessness of this, picking up the phone to connect voice to voice with loved ones even if it just means crying with them and being grateful we can still talk with them. I was blessed with this experience this morning.

Within the raw mass pain that presently covers our community is a massive opportunity to get comfortable with being vulnerable and to be deeply grateful for the wonderful people we have in our inner circle. We have within and around us a chance to focus on what is right, good, abundant, caring, just, unique and quirky in those we love…instead of how imperfect or un-potentiated we think they are.

Within this crisis is an opportunity to heal an all-too-frequent instinct to lash out at the accused or anyone else we can lay the blame on. There is an opportunity to change our own individual behaviors for the better, to soften our own edges, to become better listeners, to genuinely connect at a soul level with those who matter most in our lives, to support the families of the deceased victims and others who are most directly affected. The victims’ families will need their family and closest friends’ support long after the media spotlight has passed.

Perhaps the greatest challenge we face is that we have a chance right now to summon the immense courage required to forgive and have compassion for the perpetrator, and to understand that these acts of violence came from some deep and consuming fears he was not able to control or defeat. We have the opportunity to step up and express our support for the accused’s family – their pain and unjustified guilt must also be immense.

Anger, defiance, vengence and blame are all fear-based and do not serve our greatest good. Calgary has the opportunity right now to decide to heal from this crisis with compassion, to shift deliberately to living from its heart. We can permanently open the soul of our community, to live in a gentle and caring way despite our grief and fear.

It takes great character and courage to be soft and gentle in the face of senseless bloodshed. How about “Calgary Cares” as our new motto?

– Andrew H. Ruhland