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RIP Raymond Taavel: A life lost, left with only a dream, my city

Since the death of Raymond Taavel, I have been inundated with emails, asking me to speak out against the mental health system that would allow Andre Noel Denny onto the streets to commit his murder. To extend some sort of olive branch in the form of shared communal rage at a world that would let the good die young and protect the evil embedded in the city streets of my hometown.

I don’t know what I can say that gives back all that has been lost.

Because a life is so much more than the meaning it has to us as a community. It’s the difference he made to his friends, family and lovers. It’s the people he inspired to love as their hearts told them, in a city that remains cold until the fiery rage ignites us from our blissful dream that Nova Scotia is what they sell to tourists, not the lies we grow up with as children. He taught love and he died defending it.

Nothing has been gained from this.

Raymond has lost the feeling of air as it goes down his lungs, the touch of a lover’s kiss, the words he could have found and we could have heard are gone. You can’t politicize this death and say we gain something by his absence.  Precious people don’t die to teach us lessons.  We are left without Raymond Taavel, a man I didn’t know, who’s death has shaken my city down to it’s very foundations.

We only have his dream and we clutch so tightly to it, because all of those possibilities, all the hope he had, which cannot be captured in signs or slogans, gives us something we can live for in his absence. The loss of his flesh doesn’t pay for the life of his dream.  We can’t let it die.

We are left with what small and terribly inadequate gestures. People say nothing will change when Facebook pictures turn to rainbows, when journalists capture vigils and Gottingen remains a place where good people go to hide from our cities history of hatred towards the gay community, to our aboriginals, our blacks and our mentally ill. We could be lost in indignation, finger pointing and rage or we could offer each other the love that Noel Denny couldn’t provide to Raymond Taavel. We must find the imagination to love.  The hard work necessary to change Halifax will not come without that imagination. Hatred is the failure of imagination, the burning hand of a certainty born of delusion.We must commit to make waken this dream from a sleep, to keep this passionate feeling a part of our lives not for a few weeks but for the years he should have had.

In this case it seems he died as a collection of societal failures, our inability to properly look after our mentally ill and the cross currents of hate that run through our sweet city. I don’t want to talk to about the mental health system and the way it fails people. That’s for tomorrow. For today I urge compassion.

The person who signed that release form might have been thinking about what it’s like to have no freedom. To offer a man a chance to feel the breeze on his face, to see the world he was born into, and for a moment not to feel broken. They are just a person who couldn’t have known the undercurrents of destruction that would trail in the wake of a decision that would prove monstrously wrong. They need us to love them. To acknowledge they are human and their life has value. That we too have made mistakes in the name of hope and the crushing weight of the days we each live.

On Huffington Post, I saw someone say that the person who signed the forms is as responsible as Denny for the murder. I ask for the love you feel for Raymond to extend to this person who didn’t know what they were doing. What we would be losing.  For the same love to be given to the man Raymond died defending for he is another person who must be loved, for the guilt and shame of living must be defeated. It’s a time to hold hands, where grief is raw and emotions could break us.  We must choose to love.

Halifax has hate older than the Citadel, which looms in silent shadow.  We divide our city on economic and ethnic lines. Homophobia is casual and taught to our children in school grounds. A person with little to no understanding of what he was doing, knew enough to kill someone that our society told him it was okay to hate. Knew enough to take away someone that people love. Halifax comes together to mourn a tragedy. Will we stay together to prevent the next one?

Will we remember all of the African Nova Scotians that die in unsolved murders? The Sex Workers that regularly disappear to never be seen again? The Aboriginals who have been habitually abused. The mentally ill that have been lost in a system that cannot hope to meet their need.  We have all lost and must remember that one life means more than a dream. That when someone is beaten to death in our city, it is everyone’s tragedy.

We stand at a moment where we can make things different. Where we can save lives of people like Raymond. Where we can make our city new and it’s going to take years, because we can hate instantly but it takes time for love to take root.

I want to see Halifax as it lives in a picture by Brian Mullins. Where gay or straight, we stood together and demanded change.Where poets like Tanya Davis capture the fragile nature of Nova Scotia. Where hundreds change their Facebook pictures to a rainbow flag. I say love is never little.

That we must protect the right to love as you want to. To love more than we want to.

It’s all that’s left.

My heart goes out to my city.

It’s time to hold hands. Tomorrow we can point fingers.