A walk to remember

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The day began, a year ago today, under the hard light of an uncertain spring. That day was not for strolling or cavorting in the newly opened playgrounds and parks of downtown Moncton. The mercury barely touched 12 degrees, and the sky, thick with cloud, lingered and loomed like a certain threat.

Still, my wife and I, in our early 50s and determined to amplify our expectations of a happy life together, set out as usual on our fast walk around Jones Lake in the west end of the city. As we did, we spoke of many things.

We spoke of our children, and how lucky we were to still have them in our orbit. Our Melinda in faraway Toronto was thriving as a professional practice analyst at the Ontario College of Early Childhood Educators. Our Jessica was less than a year away from completing her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at the University of Prince Edward Island.

What’s more, our sons-in-law (Richard Whittall to Lindy; Myles Thompson to Jess) actually seemed to like us, as did their kids (Lindy’s and Rich’s James and Isla; Jess’s and Myles’ Euan and Ruby).

We were fortunate, indeed, we agreed, as we turned the corner where the late, great Reuben Cohen still lived.

How many more blessings, we wondered, could we count on our way around and past the coffee shop that used to be a liquor outlet, not far from the paint store where we once bought buckets of latex to coat our walls, right next to the kid’s emporium of puzzles and games and books where we once spent happy hours pretending to be grown-ups on behalf of our grandchildren?

We had arrived in this town on a wink and a prayer in 1996. And from the moment we landed on a hot, thundery May afternoon, we knew we had found the home, the community, we had always wanted together – not the cold, grey doom of Toronto where we had spent five, penurious years; not the fatuous, underwhelming promise of Halifax where we had spent far too much time fruitlessly chipping away at the fossils of calcified privilege and money.

No, Moncton – with all its gloriously openhanded enterprise and entrepreneurial vigour – hit us like a lightening strike. This absurdly ugly, magnificently beauteous burg was where we belonged. We would always own its Petticodiac, its struggling downtown, its bewildering ex-urban ribbons of big-box stores, its mysteriously neglected riverside parkways and byways.

When my wife and I finished our walk around the neighborhood we call home, the word came down through local, national and international media, through Google alerts and Facebook, through Twitter and Instagram that the unthinkable had happened in the northwestern part of Moncton. A maniac had killed, in cold blood, three officers of the law.

We shed tears for the RCMP who had lost their lives as they had executed their duties – for their parents and wives and children. We mourned the passing of time in the brevity of life.

We grieved for those who must endure the unendurable: The sudden loss of the cherished; the abrupt absence of the beloved.

As we counted our blessings, we considered those of others in this fine town of a city; and then we went for another long walk. We walked in memory of those who sacrificed their lives for the rest of us.

The day ended, a year ago today, when the sun finally began to shine softly – the pain still daggered, the shock still stunning – and we held onto each other, speaking of many things.

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