Last Sunday, I visited the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City, the mosque where exactly one week earlier a Quebec man ran in and killed six Muslim men. The Sunday School at a church I was visiting had made a poster they wanted to give to the mosque as a gift of love. The leader of the Sunday School invited anyone who was interested to join her as she presented it to them. I jumped at the opportunity.
While most people I knew had been horrified by the shooting, I’d seen little to no reaction from the Christians I knew towards this atrocity. I was puzzled and confused by this. The shock of the event left most people feeling numb and uncomfortable. They had no idea of how to respond.
But here was a church that was willing to step out and do something. I was pleased to join them.
My heart and mind were not prepared for what I was about to see. As we walked into the mosque, I started feeling uncomfortable, even afraid. We were strangers, marching into their holy place. I quickly covered my head out of respect for the people we were visiting, questioning every move I made. A man thanked me for coming, and I nodded my head at him, though my eyes were mostly directed at the floor. Some of the walls still had traces of blood dripping down them.
We left the mosque and gathered outside to pray, then went our separate ways.
As I waited at the bus stop, a thought hit me.
Those men just watched their friends die.
It wasn’t until that moment that the reality of their pain struck me. I started to cry. I hadn’t been ready to offer sympathy to those men. I hadn’t had an inkling of their grief. How could I? How could I grasp the horror of what they had faced? How could I offer anything, even love? I was so consumed by my own discomfort that I’d never considered what they were facing. I hadn’t known how.
I’m not happy with what we did that day. I went to see their horrors as a tourist and offered nothing in return. But without that visit, I would never have never been able to come to this place of understanding.
I do not comprehend their pain. I can’t. But today I am a little closer than I was last Sunday. Today I have a little more empathy. I can begin to grieve over the terror that these people lived through. I have also faced my own failure to love these people as I should.