Groundhogs to Genocide

By: | Posted on: 07.10.2014

As soon as my key had turned and conquered lock, my arrival home was welcomed with a troubled gaze.  iPad in hand and worry knitting her brow, my mom uttered the few words I never expected her to voice: “We have unwanted visitors”. I did a hasty inventory of all those who I had extended an admittedly hypothetical open invitation to, but a grainy, paparazzi like image was handed over for inspection. “Look!, she said pointing to the screen. “It’s made holes. 3 of them.” Our unwanted guests had clearly upset her.  I reassured her that I would take care of it; she had nothing to worry about.

I turned my attentions online, looking for clues and making educated guesses. I spoke to Gus- a   gruff, Eastern European exterminator with a robust smokers’ cough. His initial concern was that our visitors were moles. He conveyed a story- “From back in ‘83”. Told me it took a crew of three to trap the intelligent and sneaky “sons of guns”. Even then it took him all summer. My worry grew only until it faded after a brief cross examination.  It was decided that this visitor was too big to be a mole, and his bushy tail was a sure sign that he wasn’t a possum either.  After some more googling and cross-referencing with Gus… we had groundhogs.

I won’t go on about how a nugget of information in a situation that calls for action can begin to swerve dangerously into shades of obsession.  I became the groundhog guru: how many in a litter? Behaviours and mating patterns?  Relationship with humans? I could go on, and for those days and weeks I surely did.  Without getting into tedious details, I decided on the  trap and release method- being influenced greatly by my father who is the kind of man who will get cut off by an overly aggressive driver and will explain sympathetically that “They must be in a rush to get somewhere important.”

Admittedly feeling like much more of an alpha male than usual, I spent the next few days procuring and setting up traps and my efforts were rewarded with a furry prisoner a few days later- one that we treated a bit like a science experiment: hustled into the back of a car and drove a few exits north on the 404 to release. This charitable “catch and release” took a bit more work than I had planned on and our prisoner was obviously unaware of our benevolence, leaving us his own special blend of excrement as a parting gift. Delightful.

It was when I was relaying the details of this particular episode when I wondered aloud about the potential of “just killing” the next one we would catch. “It’s really not worth the hassle. You have to hold the cage, of course worried it’s going to pop open, put it in the car, drive..” – My dad cut me off first with a disappointed look, then a grave assertion:  “You’re better than that, no murdering will be done.”

I told him it was just a suggestion, and we both chuckled while reflecting on our furred guests and the highly dramatic tones all of this was taking. It was here when my father repeated a sentiment that he had paraphrased countless times before. “I can’t understand how they did it.”

I knew right away who the “they” was. I knew exactly what he was talking about. He continued on, confirming that I had indeed gotten the reference right: “So many families, so many lives. Zohrab, Siamanto, Varoujan. So young… Imagine the bodies of work that remained uncreated…”

Not being a wildlife enthusiast or survivalist of any sort, this groundhog episode was the closest I had come to staking dominance over one form of life or another and my father’s disbelief rung in my ears for quite a while after: “I don’t understand how they did it”.  It was this episode and many others that I have felt on my own skin, that is central to my personal commemoration and which keeps the flame burning ceaselessly in my own conscience. The flame commemorating the 1.5 million souls that passed and these everyday and seemingly mundane experiences keep the search for understanding and desire for justice active, even outside the second last week in April.

This encounter stuck around in my mind for quite a while and I was drawn to write about it, think aloud about the connection between two vastly different occurrences. As I gathered and clarified my ideas I wondered as well if it was petty to make the comparison: one groundhog and the sympathy I felt for it as it peered around bewildered after a dark ride in a cage recalling such a dark page in our history.  But as I look back, I can think of countless other personal experiences that undoubtedly sound trivial when retold, but in the moment that I experienced them and felt them on my own skin- these seemingly unimportant occasions are what allowed me to have the slightest, though widely intimate appreciation of my own communal history.  These moments that could be quickly brushed off and seemingly play no major role in one’s psyche seems to me the clearest example of something quite unique to us: Hayou Jagadakir.

Jagadakir- the path that is laid out for us, that is communally “stamped” on our foreheads for all to see. It’s this “stamp” that colours everything for me in a way that makes me wonder what it would be like to go without.  We have all wondered why our Croatian friends don’t scan movie credits looking for their version of “ian” or perhaps have wondered what it must be like to have the nonchalance of our Persian friends and hear Farsi in an elevator without batting an eye.  These are only the tip of the iceberg and are incidents that tend to get pushed back into the mundane but every once in a while I experience something a bit more out of the ordinary and I find myself taking an extra moment and seeing that “stamp” on my forehead glow a little brighter.

Pessimists might see it as a chip on one’s shoulder, but I can’t help but draw comparisons when things take a bit of a downturn and inevitably seem to frame my everyday difficulties within the larger context of  “our” darkest days.  The groundhog that tested my scruples was only one example, and I can think of another recent one: the ice storm that many Toronto residents endured during their Christmas holidays just this past year.  While many of our neighbours saw the great inconvenience in having to grab a few necessities and spend a few nights with friends or family, I doubt that my Portuguese friend Mike who lives across the street had the same thoughts I did when we went back after a few days to grab some more blankets and changes of clothes under nightfall.  While Mike and his family were probably as annoyed and inconvenienced as I was, I was the one who couldn’t help but imagine the frantic grabbing of a few important bits under Hamidian darkness. The same? Definitely not, but nonetheless our communal Hayou Jagadakir is what draws me to inevitably make comparisons.

It is this ability to dye our everyday experiences with a “greater” search for justice that makes us who we are. We must keep this ability to empathize and remember those brief moments of compassion and outrage so that we can reference back to them outside of official commemorations in order to keep the “Hay Tad” alive and dynamic.

No one wants to have a chip on one’s shoulder, an inferiority complex or constant thoughts that they’ve been done wrong, but it is this need to remember- consistently, constantly and completely that will ensure our commitment to our communal cause.  It is when we look for it in our everyday, in the passing moments that could otherwise go unnoticed and in the small defeats or tiny gains that we keep this fire and this need for justice alive.  It seems, Groundhogs can do more than burrow holes.

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