The Sunday Magazine·PERSONAL ESSAY

A COVID-19 confinement chronicle: week six — Michael's essay on the Nova Scotia tragedy

"There is no second-guessing the kind of slaughter that will forever mark a little town of 100 people called Portapique. We can only stay in our confinement and think about them and weep for them."

'There are no quarantines against mindless violence. There are no vaccines to counter mad anger'

Workers at an extended care facility show their community support in Debert, N.S., on April 21. RCMP say at least 22 people are dead after a man went on a murder rampage in Portapique and other Nova Scotia communities. The alleged killer was shot and killed by police. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
Listen3:30

A couple of weeks ago we reprised one of our most popular documentaries: the story of Viktor Frankl and his book, Man's Search for Meaning.

A Nazi concentration camp surivvor, Frankl wrote that humans could find meaning in almost everything. If we look hard enough. And that whatever pain we live with, it will be how we react to it that will give the experience meaning.

Human animals need to know things. To find meaning and perhaps understanding, we probe and pry and ask questions.

This past Tuesday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. We have come to understand the reason for the industrial slaughter of a people: Hitler wanted to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

In recent months, we have come to understand the fragility of human life in the face of a viral onslaught which could kill millions. The meaning we take from the pandemic is that we're not as smart as we think we are, that in the face of an indifferent nature, we need each other in order to survive.

But what meaning, what understanding are we to take from the actions of a madman with a gun and a Mountie uniform, who kills 22 people?

The virus was kept out but the madman's contagion entered the houses. We thought that a locked-down world would stave off the horrors of the outside.- Michael Enright

Portapique, N.S. is a tight-knit community of about 100 on the Minas Basin. The name comes from the old Acadian French word meaning porcupine.

It is the last place one could conceive of an American-style mass murder.

It seems to be the kind of place where people know each other, help each other, a community removed from some of the world's egregious outrages. We all like to imagine there are such places. Where life goes on regardless and everything is normal.

But as the cliché has it, these are not normal times.

We hunker down in our homes to be safe from the virus. But for the good people of Portapique, N.S., home was no protection. The virus was kept out, but the madman's contagion entered the houses. We thought that a locked-down world would stave off the horrors of the outside.

But how do we protect ourselves from the insane actions of someone who wants to kill and perhaps, in the end, be killed himself?

There are no quarantines against mindless violence. There are no vaccines to counter mad anger.

The hardest part is seeing the pictures, the faces of the dead. And hearing relatives describe how they got the news. One man found the body of his brother lying in the middle of the road.

With the pandemic, in our isolation, we can listen to the medical people. We can absorb what our political leaders tell us.

We can tell ourselves that the people in charge of our lives for the moment know what they are doing. We can stay inside and lump it.

But there is no second-guessing the kind of slaughter that will forever mark a little town of 100 people called Portapique. We can only stay in our confinement and think about them and weep for them.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full essay.

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