There are different kinds of birthdays. Some years, a birthday is a blur of cake and presents, music and dancing, happy, crazy delirium. Other years are about sleeping in and giant cups of tea, a chance to read a book in peace or go for a long walk. Sometimes, a birthday is just another day at the office, maybe something nice for dinner and a handful of congratulatory emails. If you’re lucky, you’ve experienced some mixture of all three.
Some birthdays are a little more complicated. Some years, we spend this particular day taking stock, making plans, and even though we don’t really want to, coming to terms with some of the things that didn’t go as we’d hoped. Once in a while, a birthday is more like a day of reckoning, of brutal honesty, a day of “I can’t believe I’m still standing.”
I think this year, Canada is having one of these birthdays. We were undoubtedly due for it. Despite our squeaky-clean, unassuming image on the international stage, we’ve done our share of messing things up. I don’t need to give a laundry list of our trespasses here. Suffice it to say, there have been many, some of which still linger and take giant, crooked bites out of who we hoped we were.
Maybe it isn’t surprising that these transgressions are just now coming to light for many. A whole lot of us have been holed up in our cubbies for the past year or so, and we’re just starting to find our feet again. It’s been a year to sit and think, at least metaphorically. There really hasn’t been an excuse to not do so. Think of all those fellas in Plato’s allegory of the cave, their eyes watering and burning in the light of what was actually “out there”. The truth hurts. A lot. But it’s still the truth.
And here are a few truths:
- The truth is, July 1 isn’t really even a proper birthday. Human birthdays are for celebrating when someone arrived as a someone, when the universe hit play on their personal history. Papers were filed in 1867, but that’s not when Canada started being a someone. That all happened sometime about 12,000 years ago, when a bunch of brave people crossed a glacier (a glacier!) and learned to make things work here. I want to celebrate that far more than I want to pay homage to a legal document being signed.
- The truth is, you can love, love, love something, and still be critical of it, still see all the little thorns sticking out of it, the ways in which it sometimes sucks. You can see everything that’s gone before, acknowledge that you didn’t make the mess yourself, and still want to help clean it up. You can hold the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” in your head and your heart simultaneously. This is how I love most things, and most people, and how I love the country that raised me. Being aware of flaws doesn’t diminish true love, it validates it. I love Canada enough to want it to be better.
- The truth is, Canada isn’t done. Never has been, probably never will be. Perhaps we all got too comfortable resting on our laurels as “the good guys”, and settled into the idea that this was the way things would always be. History has shown, in many cases, that entities that get stuck, that don’t change, tend to die off, or worse, get caught in a pattern that’s detrimental to many living within it. There’s absolutely no shame in being a work in progress, as long as there is actually progress.
The very best news, I think, is that we have what it takes to actually be “the good guys”, not perfect, but good. Mixed in with some shameful acts have been triumphs. We have innovators, inventors, artists, poets, and humanitarians in our midst- lots of voices and minds, and there is room for so many more. We have breathtaking natural beauty that’s just waiting to be praised and protected. Canada is home to the biggest multicultural festival, the biggest pride festival, and the biggest film festival. For the love of Pete, we produce over 80% of the world’s maple syrup. We can get there, to a place where we actually live up to the sunshine-and-rainbows reputation we’ve been pinning to our backpacks for a long, long time.
So, it’s going to be one of those birthdays this year, and that’s okay. If you’re lucky, those birthdays mark turning points, motivational sparks. We can have our red and white frosted cake, wave a few flags, and spend some time thinking of real, practical ways that we can be more aware, more peaceful, more inclusive.