Jul 1, 2013

O Canada

My students noting the flags flying at the entrance to Canada's Wonderland on Tuesday, May 21, asked: "How come they have all the other countries' flags up there but not ours?" I explained to them that those were the flags of Canada's provinces, like our fifty states, not flags of other nations.

Today is Canada Day!  It's a  fitting time to conclude my series on the CAA 8th grade class trip this past May to Toronto with my impressions of Canada.

I concede, of course, that it's not really possible to have any meaningful impressions of this vast nation as whole based on my visit to one province for a few days. It's like sitting on the steps of the shallow end of the pool for a few minutes and then declaring you've gone swimming.  So what I offer instead is a reflection, less on what I experienced, and more on what I admire about this great nation.

 We Americans have a strange need to be the Best, the Greatest, Number 1.  We tend to be rather self-involved--a bit nationally narcissistic, if you will.  We assume everyone loves us and wants to be us or hates us and wants to destroy us because they secretly envy our freedoms and our greatness.  Either way we are certain we are on everyone's minds; the center of the world.  Perhaps we are actually somewhat insecure.  Nationally, we are sometimes reminiscent of a teenager.  And I suppose that's what we are in the scope of history.  The American experiment isn't even a quarter of the way through our third century while many nations have been around in one form or another for more than a millennium.

But then we have this younger neighbor to our north, this sophomore to our  junior in the high school of youthful nations.  We tell ourselves that they are basically just like us.  They speak the same language (for the most part), and while they've got their "aboats" and "ehs" their accent is far more similar to ours than those of our more distant cousins in Great Britain and elsewhere.  Their ethnic makeup mirrors ours--a melting pot of colors and cultures including the remaining Native Americans who were there first.  Our hockey and baseball leagues overlap.  We are both developed, modern, rich countries. Canada feels benign, and in its seeming similarity to us, unthreatening. No worries about foreigners to the north coming in and taking up our jobs and refusing to speak American.  Sure they've got their eccentricities--they use the metric system and spell center wrong.  "Isn't that cute, they've actually got their own little country going on up there," we say to ourselves.  But basically they're just like us.

Except that they're really not.  For starters, Canada is far from little.  In fact--gasp--geographically it's bigger than we are!  And through my interaction with the many great Canadian friends I've made over the years and from my very brief visit this is what I've learned.  Canada and her citizens are very much unconcerned with what we Americans think of it.  They don't take our little condescensions to heart,  they don't feel the need to prove anything to us, and they remain our friends.  What strikes me about the "Canadian character" if there can be such a thing is that it is just so unflappable.  So chill. Canada is doing its own thing, and doesn't need to make a big show of it. Canada has this quiet confidence about it that I find quite admirable.

Granted Canada has had a very different history.  We Americans came up scrappy, fighting from day one.  We challenged the Big Kid on the playground, back in preschool, and miracle of miracles, we won.  From the get-go we've felt the necessity to go big or go home.  Then we had a Civil War that nearly destroyed our nation, and the reasons for that cataclysmic event and it's septic aftermath still reverberate through our nation.  Being black in the United States, I believe, means something very different than it does to be black in Canada and it has everything to do with our different histories.  Slaves in the U.S. strove to escape a nation free in ideals to a nation free in fact. When you think about it, Canada, more than once, has been a refuge for when our own nation fails to practice what we preach.  Though we style ourselves a world leader, when it comes to liberty we have on occasion found ourselves agonizing our way across the finish line only to find Canada already there, cool, and barely breaking a sweat, offering a friendly high five and a Gatorade.

I'm sure to some of my fellow Americans this entry might seem almost unpatriotic, particularly as we approach our own national birthday in just a few days. (Oh, and Canada you are like totally invited to celebrate with us this year.  Oh, wait your birthday was today?)   It's not considered very patriotic among Americans to be overly admiring of other countries especially at the expense of our own.

But here's the thing about me and patriotism.  I love my country the way I love my family.   I might say that my family is the best, but empirically, I know that can't be true.  No, I love my family because they are mine. And that is why I love my country.  I chant "USA, USA" and tear up at the national anthem not because our innate superiority demands it, but simply because this beautiful, struggling, idealistic, blustering country is mine.  Truthfully, as a Christian whose citizenship is ultimately in a Kingdom that doesn't fly the Stars and Stripes, that's about as much of my heart as my country can rightly claim. And that leaves me room to admire and learn from other countries as well, including our northern neighbor, the maddeningly cool, refreshingly nice, seemingly perfect, BFF for life, O Canada.

My class on our last day in Canada, Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at the St. Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto.  We spent the day souvenir shopping before heading for home in the afternoon.

1 comment:

Mai said...

Fabulous post, Sean! It's neat to hear a foreigner reflect on some of the things I love most about my country :)