Though they lived only a few blocks apart Andrea Bennett had never, because that is how things sometimes work in neighbourhoods, laid eyes on Ebraheim Barho, who moved into the Governor’s Brook subdivision in Spryfield just months ago.
Walking down the street, she had never run into his wife Kawthar Barho, who, like her husband, had recently emigrated from Syria.
Just as Bennett had never, as some neighbourhoods do, had occasion to smile down at their children or to lean towards the stroller and make the acquaintance of Abdullah, just four months old, who, from everything I’ve seen, was a gregarious little fellow.
But when she got the unimaginable news — that a fire at their newly built house Tuesday took the lives of all seven children and left the father in critical condition — Bennett knew she had to do something, even if it was just something small, a gesture really.
“I had to let them know that we are together in this community and that we are here for them,” she explained Wednesday.
So she went into her children’s rooms: Lilly, 7, and Rose, who is one. The elementary school teacher rummaged around for a minute.
Then she took seven stuffed toys, one for each of the young neighbours she would never meet, and placed them carefully on the front steps of her home.
This is what we do when tragedy strikes. When something so terrible occurs that it makes a mockery of the belief that there is fairness in this life, we, as people, want to say that we will not take this sitting down.
We want to let the departed know that their lives mattered, and those who remain understand that someone shares their sorrow and pain.
Which is why the hockey sticks appeared by the hundreds on front steps throughout the neighbourhood a year ago after the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus crash with its devastating loss of young life.
And why — with a tragedy right in its midst — the stuffed toys began to appear on the doorsteps in Governor’s Brook on Wednesday as the day progressed and word of the campaign spread by phone, email and social media.
And at the foot of the Barho family’s driveway, where flowers and messages also lay, and where a neighbourhood vigil was held on Tuesday night.
But also on the balconies of an apartment building near the site of the fire, on doorsteps of complete strangers and folks Bennett knows well, as, in its grief, the community bonded together as communities like this do.
I was told Wednesday that Governor’s Brook, which has families from the Middle East, Asia and Africa in its midst, is a close-knit, warm place. The kind of neighbourhood, where, if you lose a garbage can lid to the winds that blow through the young, treeless subdivision, the finder will post it on the community Facebook page.
So I’m not surprised to learn that down the street from Bennett a man named Brandon Christian — who heard the sirens on Tuesday morning, watched the blaze envelope the Barho family’s home, and prayed that everyone would make it out alive — found seven stuffed animals “for the seven angels that are now gone” and placed them beside his outside door.
And that, on nearby Alabaster Street, Bennett’s cousin Angela Pellerine, who felt “empty” and “helpless” after the tragedy, found it helped to place one “stuffy” outside her door, and wait for her four children to lay out the others.
Just as it seemed, in some way, to help people who had never walked through the community’s streets to show they were with the devastated family by putting out stuffed toys as far away as Saskatchewan and the Annapolis Valley and even California and Florida where word of the campaign had spread.
Here though the pain was palpable Wednesday, the loss deeper because it is their own.
The Barho kids went to the same schools and played with their neighbours just like everyone else in Governor’s Brook. In time they would have learned to skate at the Spryfield Rink. As fresh-faced young men and women — with the world out there waiting for them — they would have accompanied each other to school proms.
If there was fairness in this world they would have gone on to live that envious life, here for all Canadians, the hope of which brought them to this country from Syria in the first place.
But there is a charred house on a Spryfield street that proves our world is not always so. And stuffed animals on doorsteps that show how we bond together to ignite some small light to keep the darkness at bay.