This week, our preoccupation with COVID-19 and how it has and will affect our community was brutally interrupted by overwhelming disbelief, sadness and grief at the murder of our fellow Nova Scotians.
Six days ago, our province lost 22 loved and loving people who have been said to “epitomize Nova Scotia’s neighbourly, service-minded society.” They included a police officer, a teacher, nurses, caregivers, business owners, correctional workers and a forestry worker who were parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, friends and neighbours, colleagues and role models. As an educator, I am compelled to note they included a young woman, Emily Tuck, who was just about to graduate from high school, and her proud parents. They also included Lisa McCully, an elementary school teacher. Both had, just days before, used Facebook to give their gift of music to others amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In how they are all being remembered, it is striking that all have been described as people who were living lives as beautiful as the region of Nova Scotia they called home.
On Sunday, Premier MacNeil set the tone for our grieving by saying Nova Scotia would not be defined by the horrific evil that unfolded the night before in Portapique and surrounding communities of Colchester County. The same has been said by many of the grieving family members of the victims of that evil – they will not be defined by how they died but by how they lived. The outpouring of support from across Nova Scotia in honour of them and for their families shows that both the Premier and the family members have it right: Nova Scotia is being defined now, as it has been in its response to other disasters through history, by its culture of “we are all in this together.”
As members of the King’s community, we are all deeply connected to Nova Scotia, whether or not we are from Nova Scotia and no matter where we now call home – the beauty of Nova Scotia and its people is integral to the beauty of King’s. I am sure you have all been feeling your Nova Scotian identity with particular intensity over recent days. Many of you have no doubt reached out to each other and to the traumatized families and communities, including through one or more of the many online sites dedicated to sharing condolences and support to families and communities of the victims. This evening you can follow the locally produced “Nova Scotia Remembers: A Virtual Vigil” on YouTube, Facebook or nationally on CTV and CBCTV, starting 7:00pm AT.
At King’s, our tradition is that meetings of our Board of Governors and its Executive Committee open with the necrology, the solemn reading of the names of the members of the community who have died since the prior meeting. My first experience of it was one of the strongest and most memorable indications in my first days at the College that I had joined a very different kind of university. Yesterday, the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors met through Zoom to be updated on the University’s unfolding response to the pandemic, particularly on the plans we are now making for the academic year to come, when the pandemic will still be with us. Our Board Chair, Doug Ruck, opened the meeting with the following words:
“The image of Nova Scotia was shattered this past weekend, leaving behind a province that is … grieving. It’s hard to make sense of the senseless … When I hear the voices of those left behind, the grief in their voices, I am at a loss about what to do. During this time, when we can’t have physical contact, we need to show that we care. It’s a tragedy, and one for which over time the pain will lessen for us, but not for the families left behind. As a university we have to express our support for those families. The flag is flown at half-mast. In the absence of hugs, we must find other ways to show our sympathy. … We have to deal with it to the best of our ability. It’s not easy. It will take a toll.”
The flags at King’s have been at half-mast since Monday. There is a poignancy in their unusual COVID-19 solitude. A similar poignancy, of standing in solidarity in isolation from each other, is conveyed in this recording by the Chapel Choir from 2010 of Duruflé’s Requiem-Angus Dei shared with us by Director Paul Halley and the Chapel’s Manager Vanessa Halley. I hope it brings you solace.
I will be back with a further update on COVID-19 and King’s, focusing on our planning for the year to come, next week. For now, God bless you. God bless them.