After witnessing our country’s centennial through the inscrutable lens of a nine-year-old, half a century ago, my most vivid recollection is the commemorative series of coins minted for the occasion. The dove on the penny, a rabbit on the nickel, a fish for the dime, and the cool bobcat quarter. In those days, the baying wolf of the 50-cent piece and silver dollar with a Canada goose in flight, were relatively rare sightings—at least for a kid from a five-child, working class family, scraping out a living in east-end Toronto.
Fifty years later—having now shared 40% of the country’s lifespan, travelled much of it, carved out a career, and raised a family here—I have a much deeper appreciation for what this country offers in beauty, diversity, tolerance, and opportunity. It seems, to some degree, my generation has grown up with the country.
The perspective that comes with a broader understanding of the rest of the world and its dubious alternatives, probably contributes to that appreciation. Recent events to the south have added an exclamation point.
Admittedly, much of my youth was spent with a dose of United States envy. They (and the Brits) had the popular bands; the NFL played by the real rules and had better players; it was home to the big movie stars; they produced charismatic leaders; like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., whose every utterance seemed profound; they put men on the moon. We picked our spots, though; Canada had superior hockey talent and wasn’t drafting kids into wars.
There was always ferocious patriotism among Americans. They clearly loved their country—they glorified it at every opportunity. There also seemed a tone of condescension towards outsiders, like us.
They were the popular kid at school, the star athlete, they played in a band, wore the cool clothes, had parents with the nicest houses and the best cars. They were bigger, stronger, and could handle themselves or protect their friends if a fight broke out. They may not have remembered our name, but something drew us to them.
I can remember a certain deference, perhaps even intimidation, when crossing the border for the occasional trip to the star-spangled land of the free and the home of the brave.
But it isn’t like that anymore.
One of the benefits (or curses) of retirement is having time through the week to watch daytime programming. Since the U.S. election six months ago, I have become something of a cable news junkie. As with most vices, extricating oneself is easier said than done.
However the pundits choose to explain the American election, I compared the feeling of it—in the early hours of November 9th—with the horror of the second plane hitting the tower. Even more disturbing than the electoral aberration, is witnessing the soul-destroying contortions of otherwise rational people, convinced or obliged to defend the indefensible.
But this is not a rant about our southern neighbour, I wish them well in weathering the storm. This is an appreciative acknowledgement of what Canada is, and what it is not.
Sometimes we meet up with that popular kid years later, perhaps at a school reunion or in a shopping mall. We engage in small talk, but can’t help but notice he looks smaller than we remember. We find out that her promising career didn’t work out, or he ran into a spot of trouble with the law. Surprise gives way to melancholy, but mostly we recognize that life and country come with no certainties. We are grateful.
Now, as I cue my Canadian-artist music mix on the i-pod and prepare to celebrate the nation’s milestone birthday with family, I reflect on 60 years of living, working, and raising a family in this great country. And I just can’t imagine any other place on earth I’d rather have my children and grandchildren call home.
Besides, I may need them close by to pick up my coin collection and prop me into viewing position for the fireworks show at our bicentennial.