Sunday, July 1, 2007

O Canada!

A special entry for all my Canadian friends today, and a nice perspective shift for my US friends:

Happy Canada Day!

When I was growing up, we often vacationed in Canada (Beausoleil Island, Georgian Bay National Park, Ontario). We quickly learned to avoid scheduling our stay for early July. "Victoria Day" (as it was then called) and Independence Day filled the park with a sudden influx of ruder-than-average campers. Noisy kids, noisy motor boats, noisy fireworks, noisy late-night parties. Not the peaceful wilderness experience that we were seeking.

Two summers ago, I travelled from Winnipeg, MB (after a 5-month stay) to Sorrento, BC, just at the end of June to volunteer at Sorrento Centre, an Anglican conference and retreat centre ( I arrived to find the staff preoccupied with planning for the local Canada Day parade. I'd been given a few days to adjust to my new surroundings before starting my 40-hour-per-week volunteer position, so I was sort of wandering around taking it all in, feeling a little homesick and disoriented. I'm not used to having nothing to do.

"Do you have a driver's license?" someone asked. "A US one," I replied. "I guess it's good in Canada--driving was part of my formal volunteer position in Winnipeg."

"Good!" came the response. "You can drive the van in the parade! I'm glad we got THAT problem solved!"

The camp had just a skeleton crew that day, and mostly it was the youth staff that was taking part in the parade. People old enough to drive were either performing essential tasks like cooking and housekeeping, or taking a holiday to visit friends or family.

So suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was IN a parade! Not just any parade, but a Canada Day parade! I was haunted by feeling there was something sort of ironic and perhaps not quite...well, RIGHT about an American driving in a Canada Day parade. Some vague sense of disloyalty to my country.

But my country and I have a sort of awkward relationship anyhow. I would have felt equally awkward participating in an Independence Day parade--perhaps more so. I tend to think of the lives lost in the struggle for that independence. Was it worth it to their loved ones at the time? Canada achieved pretty much the same goal with much less bloodshed, without a legacy of hatred and rebellion. Maybe Canada Day is a good day to reflect on the cultural differences trickling down from the manner of our separation from British rule, our legacy of violence vs. Canada's legacy of working things out peacefully.

And I realized as I drove the van that this invitation, though coming from a real need of the Centre to have someone drive, was also a wonderful welcome to a wonderful community in a wonderful country.

One can't help hearing negative things about the US government while travelling in other countries. Sometimes the negativity is directed at the innocent traveller; sometimes, we're just put on the spot and asked to explain our government's policies and decisions. But driving the van in the parade swept all such alienating and divisive talk aside. For me, a bit weary and bewildered in a foreign country thousands of miles from home, it was an act of forgivenness for being American. My country of origin didn't matter to the youth staff planning the parade entry; I was on their team, one of them.

The parade was a classic small-town parade, with everyone in the area involved somehow. The fire trucks, the horse-drawn wagon, the day care centres, local businesses, the Red Hat Society--everyone was there. Our youth staff marched in front of the van, singing silly chants that they would be teaching the children during day camp.

Oh, all you Canadian friends, I so deeply appreciate your hospitality to me when I was a traveller alone in your amazing, vast, beautiful wilderness! I miss you, and look forward to visiting again someday, hopefully many times! Have a wonderful special day!

All you US friends, take a moment today to remember that we are just one of many nations in the world, and everyone has special feelings for their homeland, if not for their government of the moment!

Everyone, look at a photo of the earth from space, and remember that the political lines we draw are figments of our imagination from the point of view of the earth, the animals that scurry back and forth in the wilderness without knowing they are international travellers, the children who understand only the shared language of a smile, an offer of half a cookie.


Wandering Coyote said...

Great post! And I remember that day well, and the kinda stunned look you had on your face when they asked if you'd drive the van! Thanks for the lovely tribute!

Catlady said...

Yes, Thank You!!! You are so right - we need to put aside the political differences, and celebrate the love and friendships that make both our nations great!!!

Love and BC hugs from the two and four legged gang here :)