When, on one of the coldest days on record, the call went out that a three-year-old boy had gone missing from his grandmother’s home, members of this city went out in droves, desperate to try to find him.
As just about everyone knows by now, little Elijah Marsh, who left his grandmother’s home just past 4 a.m. last Thursday after putting on his winter boots, and clad only in a diaper and T-shirt, was found some distance from that home near Bathurst St. and Neptune Dr. However, by the time he was located, he had become yet another victim of one of the coldest winters on record.
The picture of that smiling child, with his bright eyes speaking only innocence, touched the hearts of this city. In his passing, that little boy reminded this city of its compassion.
We mourn along with his parents and the rest of his family in the pain of his loss.
It can at times be difficult to understand the purpose of a life, yet it is at that person’s passing that we better understand what his or her mission was here on Earth. It might be said that little Elijah had a mission to awaken our compassion and our collective sense of responsibility for one another.
When his grieving mother, Georgette Marsh, spoke of her son she described him as a “very old spirit, very loving and kind”. She also said he was an ingenious child “with the wisdom and comfort that only a grandparent can bring”.
Each day, we are bombarded with all the heinous acts that trouble the world, so that we may forget our better nature. Yet, sadly, it took the death of an innocent little boy to show us what we are really made of.
In fact, Torontonians went even further. Touched by the loss, Justin Kozuch, who did not even know the Marsh family, and is himself a father of a three-year-old boy, started an online crowdsourcing drive that eventually raised more than $170,000 for the family to pay for little Elijah’s funeral costs. In addition, Mayor John Tory has called for improvements to further childproof buildings such as the one in which Elijah’s grandmother resides, since it is part of Toronto Community Housing stock.
On another frigid day, people showed up in numbers to mourn with the family at the home of Elijah’s grandmother. In their compassion, they wanted the family to know that they shared in the loss of a little boy most had never known.
Days later, another young child was spared a similar fate by the compassion of a neighbour who took him in when he was found wandering outdoors wearing no clothing.
At just about the same time that the tragedy of Elijah was unfolding, Toronto City Council was facing a decision to close a number of public outdoor ice skating rinks because no money had been budgeted to keep them open beyond the end of February. The rinks will now continue to remain open into March, thanks to corporate donations. This is the second consecutive year that the city has faced this shortfall regarding outdoor rinks. Similarly, it was through corporate donations that the rinks were kept open last year until March. While some would argue that corporate sponsors have an obligation to step up to the plate, the fact that donations came from two sources is yet another reminder of our ability to show compassion for one another when the need arises.
It should not have to take the unimaginable circumstances of the death of a youngster to give rise to collective compassion. The truth is that it doesn’t. Every day, people in this city take actions that demonstrate our better nature. Nevertheless, we lose sight of how much compassion exists within and among us, because of the growing tendency to give our attention to crises and atrocities.
Perhaps, the best tribute we can pay to the wise old spirit of young Elijah is to carry that compassion into every aspect of our interactions with fellow residents of this city. As we close out Black History Month 2015, it should not be lost on us that young Black males are not always afforded such compassion, yet little Elijah stirred that spirit in all of us.