Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy 144th Birthday to Canada! Welcome to Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

              Canada Day, 2011, the country's 144th birthday!
Who are we? Where do we fit in the world of nations? Whose picture of reality best captures our identity?
These existential questions have beset our best thinkers and writers for the full century and a half that we have been  a country.
Creating something like a nation, an abstract concept to be sure, from the 'chaos' of the land and the native peoples whose presence here predates our country's birth, while it is not mean feat, is still and always will be a work in progress. Try as we might to hang the official portrait of our country on a wall in an art museum, it continues to leap off the canvas, out from the frame and demand another 'version' or another 'take' or another movement, as if it were an evolving jazz concerto, being constantly played through both improv and the skeleton of a manuscript. (Talk about a mixed metaphor....ugh!)
Yes, we are a northern country, relative to the southern hemisphere, and that has historically meant that our temperatures and our climate generally demands some fairly serious skin covering in the coldest months. It also means that we have found ice and snow and ponds and lakes and mountains and forests 'our playground'....and there is something to the notion that where and how a people play reflects something about their spirit.
So hunting and fishing and something organized like hockey are part of the core of our nature. We need to eat, and we also need to engage with others and we have some conventions that help to shape those needs.
We celebrate "the land" and include in that hymn all parts of that catch-phrase..our rivers, our lakes, our oceans, our glaciers and fields and mountains and more recently our towns and our cities. And there is a large amount of all of those parts, to the land. Our writers will often help so to hold firm to our picture of ourselves as a "people of the land" the belief that there is a kind of intimacy that we share with the land.
It is not that our relationship with the land is better or more sacred or more dedicated than the relationships other people in other places share with their land, but more that we come from, return to and sign the praises of the land as a national anthem.
And so , as part of that theme, we also are a people who talk incessantly about the weather. We always have, and likely always will. The weather is so instrumental in our day's activities, whether as farmers we can plow, or seed or fertilize or harvest has much to do with the weather. And even those working in glass towers at digital tablets share an intimate relationship with the elements. And yet, while we talk and moan and smile and shrug and run or walk or drag ourselves across the floor, the weather is a part of every movement and every greeting.
And as it grows seemingly more extreme, with more floods and more fires and more hurricanes and tornadoes and more melting of our polar icecaps, we talk of it in more intense terms. We are confused, irritated, worried and even quite anxious, sometimes even frightened about the extremes of nature.
And we also see extremes in the way the world's economy is shifting, as if we are watching underground tectonic plates come to the surface, no longer hiding from view, only to appear as a shock 'of the century' these plates seem to be grabbing us by the throat and pinning us against the wall as we watch another kind of drama play out among the rich and powerful.
So while our focus is often on the weather reports, our unconscious is skittering across the floor in a kind of angst that comes from knowing that much of our anxiety is generated by human actions and human insensitivity and human carelessness and human insouciance and we seem adrift on a sea in strong winds, with no one hearing or answering our call for help, although we have all the latest devices to make our shouts clear and audible.
And so, we rely more on a menu of what we call 'entertainment' in the forms of digital games, large concerts, select movies and our perception, significant to our pioneer ancestors, that we are our brother's keeper, erodes on a local scale, and seems to take on more import for countries with little or nothing to sustain them.
Relatively, their need trumps what we consider the level of need at home even though both continue. Yet, teaching for two months in Africa has more appeal to young teachers on holiday than Frontier College once did for our college students, in our own North.
We are known as a hospitable people, and in crisis that is generally true. However, we have become a nit-picking, scab-picking, irritable and irritating intolerant people, especially of the slightest social 'zit' like a faux pas made on a public stage. We are becoming like the mother who beat her adolescent kid because his jacket sleeve ticked a note in a piano recital and scarred an otherwise perfect performance. And we have also become far more rigid and unforgiving than a pioneer culture dependent on the vagaries of climate and weather, and needing the comfort of neighbours. We do not even know our neighbours. Since we have tamed so much of our days and nights in heated and cooled luxurious comfort of car, office or condo, we have forgotten our shared dependence on each other and move from task to task, from instrument panel to instrument panel like airline pilots in an eternal simlulator, never having to venture into the real stratosphere and into her storms.
And we gather around our plasma and LCD screens to watch 'national events' like a first visit of newlywed Prince and Princess of Cambridge, and celebrate their youth, their vigor and their elegance and poise, trained as they have been to represent the 'crown' in a near-perfect performance...and we listen as twin nineteen-year-old girls from twenty-one hours away in Illinois proudly claim, "I want to be just like them" as sales of the princesses fashion choices fly off the hangers in stores around the world. Or we watch those same screens as thousands of temporary thugs riot in protest of a loss of their hockey heroes of the coveted Stanley Cup, or thousands of ordinary people flee their homes from floods and fires across the continent and around the world.
And we wonder how to help the people in New Mexico, or Haiti, or  North Dakota or Manitoba or Australia or New Zealand or Japan as the disaster list and the devastation-drama moves around the planet. Now, we are all neighbours, and while we may not, and likely do not, completely understand the nuances of the various cultures in other countries, we do recognize disaster and pain wherever it strikes and continue to 'want to help' in however small a way...and today, we give thanks to a universe that planted us in this land, with these people at this time and hope against hope that we can leave something worth protecting and preserving here for our children and our grandchildren, as our parents and grandparents did for us.

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