Monday, November 12, 2007

The Proud Canadian

I am a first generation Canadian. My mother was born in Pondicherry, India, a city on the south east coast that was a French colony until India claimed its independence in the 1950s. My father was born in London, England to Irish parents who upon their divorce when he was nine, shipped him off to boarding school in Gravelburg, Saskatchewan.

My Canadian roots are not very deep.

When my father was sixteen, he ran away from school and joined the Air Force. After the Second World War ended, he brought his war bride to Canada where they stayed until after I was born. By the time of my birth, my mother's family had moved to France. She wanted to be closer to them and so, we moved to England, then France, then Germany where we lived except for eight years we spent in Canada when I was a child. I was 22 when I came back to Canada after having spent the majority of my life on foreign soils.

I have always wondered what it means to be Canadian. I could never quite grasp the depth of my Canadian heritage or dig into the meaning of the land of my birth.

Yesterday, I caught a glimpse of the power of my roots.

In my teens, we lived in Lahr, Germany where there was a Canadian Forces Base. Every day, I walked to and from my parents' home to the high school on the base. At the gate house commanding entry to the 'Kaserne', there was a large mirror affixed to the side of the guard house. Above it, there was a sign that read, "The person you see reflected in this mirror represents Canada. Behave accordingly."

I walked past that mirror every day for the four years I attended high school in Lahr. And every day I wondered, How am I supposed to behave as a Canadian?

Yesterday, I got my answer.

With pride.

Yesterday, while attending the spiritual service at Choices where I was coaching for the weekend, I heard Jill Younghusband sing, The Proud Canadian Soldier, written by Jay Willis, she recorded it with the Royal Canadian Artillery Band in 2006. (If you go to the website you can download the song.)

The song is a powerful testament to the honour and valour of Canadian troops who have served and continue to serve Canada around the world and who have lost their lives in the battle to create lasting peace.

I do not agree with war. I do not believe war creates peace.

But, that's easy for me to say. I sit here in my safe, secure home in a city where war has never fallen from the skies. I sit here, far from the sound of guns and the fear of each moment being my last. I sit here not having to defend my right to call myself Canadian.

It's easy for me to say we don't belong in certain places when I'm not the one putting my life on the line.

It's easy to be a critic.

Not so easy to stand up and support those who are willing to give their lives to defend the value I take for granted -- freedom.

Freedom comes at a price. For those who are willing to put their lives on the line, for those who carry the banner of their Canadian heritage where ever they go, I apologize. I have not treated the country of my birth with the dignity and respect it deserves. I have not worn my Canadian honour with pride.

I have spent the past thirty years putting down roots in this country and have struggled to understand what it means to be Canadian. I know what it doesn't mean in context to not being American, or French, or German. But what does it mean to be Canadian?

I'm not sure I know the answer. Perhaps there isn't one answer -- and that is the answer. I am free to be Canadian however I choose to express it.

My daughters are Canadian. I want them to be proud of their heritage. To know that being Canadian means more than not being some other nationality. It means honouring and upholding the right to be free. The freedom to celebrate unique traditions, faith and heritage. It means having the freedom to speak my mind without fear my words will be the death of me.

Yesterday, I listened to Jill Younghusband sing and speak about her experience as a member of Canada's Armed Forces and I felt her pride, her sense of honour, her fierce commitment to defending her right and my right to be free.

Yesterday, I accepted my responsibility to stand tall and claim my right to be free because I am a Proud Canadian.

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