As Canadians celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the founding of this nation this week, I can’t help but contemplate the nature of patriotism. Personally, it comes down to the distinction between pride and gratitude and I’m a lot more grateful than I am proud to be a Canadian.
Being born here, with all its privileges and comforts, is like winning the lottery. But I had no more to do with being born a Canadian than I had influence on the colour of my eyes or the tone of my skin. There’s very little, if anything, that I’ve done that has made this country what it is. While I’ve voted my conscience with little regret, in reality I’m simply a lucky recipient of the hard work and sacrifice of those who came before me. And for that I am not proud. For that I am grateful.
The soldiers and nurses of both World Wars, the social activists, the legislators who envisioned an ethical nation and fought to help forge into reality that which was only once a vision. These are things for which I am grateful.
I’m not proud of Team Canada 1972. It was exciting at the time but in retrospect, they played dirty and played a less elegant game than the Russians. I’m not proud of Terry Fox. His was an individual accomplishment of historic courage and he deserves every ounce of admiration and his legacy is immeasurable. But I had nothing to do with his greatness.
If I were a member of a First Nations People, I might not be so enthusiastic about Canada’s 150th. If this were my ancestral homeland for millenia and an invading colonial power came here, committed genocide, put my family in Residential Schools and still treated my Peoples as second class citizens today, the celebrations might ring a little hollow. If I were a Japanese-Canadian whose family was put into camps in the Second World War because of my ancestry, I might not feel entirely proud of the Canadian legacy. If I were the victim of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church, a church which was so integrated with the government for decades that they were almost indistinguishable in some regions, I might not feel such un-conflicted positivity toward Canada.
History is complicated, without doubt. However, as a collective people, there are many things I feel pride in. That we didn’t fight in Vietnam or Iraq II. That we created the idea of peacekeepers before war mongers. That we have health care. That we welcome refugees. That our Prime Minister happily and enthusiastically marches in the biggest Pride parade. The list is longer than I could imagine.
This week, I was confronted with a major health crisis. It was life-threatening. So much so that as my wife and I were rushing to the hospital, I was giving her my banking information and telling her what she should try to sell my guitars for after I was gone.
When we got to the Emergency intake, I opened my wallet and along with my PetroCan card and my Subway card, was the green card with my picture on it. Within minutes of slapping it down, I was whisked away into the care of teams of dedicated medical professionals. Between the administrators, the nurses, the doctors, the orderlies, the technicians, the volunteers and the interns, in the space of twenty-four hours, there must have been at least twenty people who contributed to saving my life. All with great dedication. Each showing great care, sympathy and humanity.
Personally, this was the perfect confluence of feeling pride in and gratitude for being a Canadian. And if on the first of July, I’m watching Peter Mansbridge introduce some East Coast dance troop I’ve never heard of or some Northern singers whose language I don’t understand, and if I have the good fortune to crack a nice cold bottle of Molson, it will only be because of that little green card with my picture on it. And I will know exactly what patriotism means to me.
Happy Canada Day!