Dr. Samantha Nutt is the founder and executive director of War Child Canada / War Child USA. She's ALSO a family doctor in Toronto, and in whatever time she has left, no big deal, she teaches medicine at the University of Toronto.
She has been to countless war zones with her organization, War Child. This week, she accepted an honorary doctorate of science degree, and gave an amazing convocation address at a University of Alberta ceremony.
It is impossible to reflect on the events of the past five days and not feel changed, forced from our chrysalis. Exposed and vulnerable. Sad. Because we all deserve something better, gentler and more beautiful.
She emphasized the importance of remembering what Canada stands for.
She also touched on the conversations going on about Canada's acceptance of Syrian refugees.
"We can bomb, we can train, we can shoot and we can lock ourselves in; build walls of steel and fortresses of barbed wire. We can close our minds, as well as our borders. But too often, the very weapons we deploy to defeat terrorism become its accelerant. There are no easy answers and no guarantees."
Dr. Nutt reminded Canadians not to let fear change us.
Here's the full text of her amazing speech, as provided to Buzzfeed by War Child Canada.
This is not the speech I thought I'd be giving today. I suspect this is not the speech you thought you'd be hearing today. Convocation speakers are supposed to tell you that you are embarking on the greatest journey of your life. I've given all of those convocation speeches. Rich in platitudes. High on optimism. This is your world, seize it!
But the truth is, I don't know what kind of world you are inheriting. I thought I did. I've seen most of it, from the shrinking river beds of the Blue Nile to the wooden port town of Basra; from Signal Hill to the Georgia Straight and back again. Probably 300 times. Six in the past month. This is the world I know, though it is no longer the world I recognize.
It is impossible to reflect on the events of the past five days and not feel changed, forced from our chrysalis. Exposed and vulnerable. Sad. Because we all deserve something better, gentler and more beautiful. Not 129 dead in the City of Light and philosophy and love and poetry. C'etait pour nous, la vie en rose. For some of you, this will be frightening and strange. Many of you here today were eight on September 11th, 2001. Eight. There are shoes in my closet older than that. But it was another day that changed everything, that left thousands dead in the city of hopes and dreams and opportunity. And there was Madrid, Mumbai, Beirut, Boston and Baghdad. The list is insufferably long. We grieve, we rebuild, we avenge. But we are somehow never the same. Nothing is ever the same.
As human beings, we need the comfort of the familiar; the banalities of life. We need to go to work and school and rock shows and restaurants and markets and not wonder, will these be my last minutes on earth? That comfort, that familiarity, is like a white noise we don't hear until it is abruptly shut off. And in the aftermath of tragedies such as these, everything is loud. Too loud. We can't focus or concentrate. Every sound, every cry, every flutter of wings is exaggerated. This is terrorism. As it claims innocent lives, it lays to waste our everyday. "Just another day!", we used to say, until the day like no other day. Now crowds of people make us nervous. Patios are too much risk. We notice many more heavily armed men in uniform, right before we stop noticing that there are many more heavily armed men in uniform. And then the voice in our head changes, too. "Let's not go to the baseball game, who knows what could happen?" "I wonder what that young man on the subway has in his back-pack?" "Always sit next to the exit in the theatre, just in case. Just in case!"
I have seen and lived war. I have wrestled, in my own way, with those feelings of helplessness. At times it has even led me to compulsive vigilance at public gatherings, from New Year's Eve parties to the Santa Clause Parade in Toronto. This ritual of noticing things has been my talisman, one I have carried with me since I landed in Somalia twenty years ago. The trouble is, this experience of violence is almost impossible to leave behind. It puts us in the habit of fear and mistrust. The world pivots from a place of wonder and possibility, to a place of tension and resentment. It hardens us, and we start to see our former selves as blithely optimistic, naïve fools. Things are different now, we tell ourselves. Everything is different now.
Things are different now. But as you wrestle with this new reality, let it not shake your confidence in what we are, as Canadians. We are a country of new beginnings. We are a respite for the war-weary, the vulnerable, and the oppressed. My parents came to this country (my father a child born into war, my mother from a working-class Scottish family) in search of a better life. If not for themselves, then for the children they would eventually have. For me. For my younger sister. For their grandchild – my son, Rhys. Everyone and everything I love is the product of that optimism. That is what this country is, for all of us. We cannot forget that, even in tough times. We cannot look upon one another with suspicion, derision, animosity or fear. We cannot let it change what we are; corrupt us, rob us of our every day.
How do you defeat terrorism? We can certainly debate the most effective means. We can weigh the value of increased military intervention alongside the odds of success. We can bomb, we can train, we can shoot and we can lock ourselves in; build walls of steel and fortresses of barbed wire. We can close our minds, as well as our borders. But too often, the very weapons we deploy to defeat terrorism become its accelerant. There are no easy answers and no guarantees. But as these conversations take place in the coming weeks and months, let's aspire to move forward and live every day as if it were extraordinary for being ordinary. That's what we all want. That's what those living with the horror and heartbreak of war want: just a normal day.
If I can offer any lessons from my life – a life which has on at least a couple of occasions very nearly been extinguished by war and in which too many of my friends were lost to days like no other day – it would be these: Remember who you are. Remember where you come from, the essence of which is all around you today. And remember to never, ever, hesitate to show those you love how much you truly mean it. C'est ça, la vie en rose.